When Connor McDavid steps onto the ice for the Oilers, there aren’t many things he can’t do. The offensive dynamo continues to find ways to put his abilities on display every game. And now, he’s looking to add to his arsenal by improving his one-timer.
Rather than being the player to just one-time the puck, McDavid is elite at setting up his teammates’ attempts. When it comes to players whose passes set up their teammates for a one-timer in 5-on-5-play, no one did it more than McDavid last season. The 2021 NHL MVP teed up his teammates for one timers 80 times in 56 games played in about 940 minutes, and that only made up eight per cent of his 5-on-5 passes. Of those 80 primary shot assists to set up a one-timer, 35 were to the slot, or about 15 per cent of all his passing plays to the quality area of the ice.
Along with his stellar transitional play and passing, McDavid was one of the most frequent shooters last season in his 22-plus minutes in average TOI in all situations. At 5-on-5 most of those shots were concentrated in the home plate area in front of the blue paint; he generated shot attempts from the slot at a team-leading rate of 8.74 per 60.
As the heat map shows below, that isn’t anything new for him — the red areas represent a higher density of shot generation over the past three seasons, and that’s an area he’s generally getting to when it comes to shooting the puck.
Here’s what’s even more interesting. Last year, McDavid noticeably increased how much he attempted to one-time the puck. In all situations, he had 21 slapshot one-timers (18 more than the year prior) and nine snapshots. Fourteen of those attempts came at 5-on-5, seven of which were from the slot.
Those 14 attempts were tied for third on the Oilers, and ranked 131st in the league. Looking at what percentage of his shots were actually one-timed (6.5%), McDavid dropped down to 14th in Edmonton and 434th in the league.
But, that was still an increase from years prior. In 64 games in 2019-20, the Oilers captain attempted 13 one-timers and in 2018-19 he tried for 15 in 78 games. In both instances, those attempts composed an even lower percentage of his total shot generation. Still, he didn’t score a single goal last year off the one-timer, and only has seven times in his career.
Through two regular season games this year, McDavid has yet to one-time a puck at even strength. But where he has, however -- and what sparked much of this conversation -- is on the power play.
Against the Flames McDavid scored not one, but two one-timers on the man-advantage. His second tally, a snapshot one-timer from the circle, is particularly rare for the Oilers’ centre.
McDavid isn’t the most frequent shooter on the power play. And as the heat map below shows, his attempts generally come within that home-plate area, with less concentration just in the slot than even strength (although his rate of 18.6 slot shots per 60 still ranked 25th in the league last season).
For McDavid, 15 one-timers in 2020-21 exceeded his previous best (13 in 2018-19), and given that he’s not the most frequent shooter on the man-advantage, it made up a higher percentage (16%) of his attempts than at even strength. Still, those 15 attempts ranked 210th in the league last year to show just how little he leaned on it. And before this season, he’s only scored on three power play one-timers.
Instead, similar to even strength, McDavid’s best impact with the one-timer is with his passing. In just 235 minutes last year on the man-advantage, he matched his 5-on-5 totals of 80 primary passes to one-timer attempts last season (11 per cent of his power play passes). That bested the second ranked player in Edmonton, Leon Draisaitl, by 48 shot assists. Only one player in the league, Quinn Hughes (37), set up more players for one-timers in the slot than McDavid (35).
As the work of Arik Parnass, now with the Colorado Avalanche, studied, the one-timer can be the most dangerous non-tipped shot on the power play. The ideal one-timer is preceded by a royal road (or a cross-slot) pass that forces a goaltender to quickly move laterally. That’s something the Oilers have leaned on between McDavid and Draisaitl in particular — even with one more-so dedicated as the shooter than the other. Last season, Draisaitl contributed 67 one-timers on the man-advantage, which ranked second on the league. Those attempts made up over 47 per cent of his power play shots.
So, it’s not necessarily a weakness that McDavid didn’t attempt to score on the one-timer more these past few years. Last season, even though he scored just nine power play goals, he still had a point on over 79 per cent of the team’s scoring on the man-advantage. With or without this addition to his game, he’s making a consistent impact.
But he is expected to pass more often to set his teammates — particularly Draisaitl.
Knowing just how often McDavid’s threading his teammates for that one-timer, opponents can game plan for it — although even with the best plans and preparation to limit those attempts, it’s still a challenge to beat such outstanding offensive players.
But if McDavid can start mixing his one-timer into his repertoire, which he is actively looking to do this season, especially on the power play, it’ll make the Oilers that much more dangerous offensively.
“If I’m willing to shoot over there, it will open up some other things,” McDavid said. “That way it doesn’t have to be Leo always being the trigger guy. We’ve got lots of threats out there and that’s just one of them I’ve been trying to work on.”
McDavid is already so tricky to defend against because he plays the game at such a fast pace and is incredibly deceptive. So now if he has another shot up his sleeve to add more versatility, even if he doesn’t lean on it too often, it’s something else defenders have to be mindful of. Just the threat of McDavid ripping a quick one-timer from the circle will get in the heads of his opponents.
But it’s something that even one of the best players in the world has to work at.
“It’s like anything, it’s just repetition,” he said. “For some guys, shooting the puck comes real easy. For others, it doesn’t. And I would fall into the category where it doesn’t, so I’ve really got to work at it. And I tried my best to do what I can and try to round out my game and score from a distance.”
*All data via Sportlogiq