Scott Stevens and Connor McDavid played in two drastically different eras in the NHL. There were far fewer restrictions when it came to clutching, grabbing and stick work when Stevens played, whereas McDavid has more space with which to work and is able to display his remarkable speed and skill in part due to the league’s cutback on obstruction and headshots and a set of rules that allows for more offence.
So, if Stevens played with today’s ruleset, how would the Hall of Fame blue-liner defend against the Edmonton Oilers superstar?
“You know what, I don’t know if I’d still have a way to defend him,” Stevens said with a laugh Thursday during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Hockey Central. “I think I’d skate backwards as fast as I can and hopefully he doesn’t beat me.”
Stevens debuted as a teenager in 1982 and retired prior to the 2004 lockout. The three-time Stanley Cup champion is regarded as one of the most physically intimidating players in NHL history, however there was plenty more to his game than mere menace.
“I think you have to be patient,” Stevens said. “You have to back up but you back up too much, you give him too much space, you give him a chance to shoot the puck or make another play. He’s just a guy that has more gears than I’ve seen any hockey player have that’s played the game. It’s just amazing how fast his feet move and how quickly he can change gears and change his speed. You think he’s going top speed and you’re playing him right and then all of a sudden he puts it into another gear into overdrive and you’re like, ‘Whoa where’d that come from?’ He’s a special player and I still don’t know if I have an answer for that but I think I’d be very patient.”
Stevens never won a Norris Trophy but did finish top-10 in Norris votes 16 times during his 22-year NHL career, including being a runner-up to Ray Bourque on two occasions. Laying the body wasn’t the only way he gained an edge on his opponents.
“I’d want to make sure I keep him on the outside, not let him get to the middle and try to angle him and force him at the post as much as I could but he’s a special player and I think he’s beat a lot of good players from what I’ve seen so far,” Stevens said of defending the two-time Art Ross winner. “I think everyone’s still kind of finding a solution for Connor McDavid. I mean it’s his (fifth) year in the league and he keeps putting consistent numbers up and doing things we haven’t seen before. He keeps getting better so he’s fun to watch.
“Speed kills and no one likes to play against speed because it can embarrass you and that’s what he’s been doing to a lot of players.”
Among defencemen, Stevens ranks second all-time in games played with 1,635, fourth with 2,785 penalty minutes, 12th in points with 908 and won the Conne Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP in 2000 with the New Jersey Devils.
“I’m proud of the way I played,” Stevens said. “I believe that my physical style helped me be able to produce offensively. That was part of the way I played. When I was doing the physical things, playing hard and playing simple hockey it’s funny the offence kind of followed that. So, I knew what got me to the NHL, I knew what would keep me there and what would help me put up some numbers and be a good all-around defenceman. That’s what I always wanted to be. I didn’t want to be one dimensional.”