The best player on the planet is having the best season of his career and he put on an absolute clinic Monday night in Winnipeg.
Connor McDavid is stomping all over any previous rumblings that Nathan MacKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl, or anybody else might be the best player in the world. It’s Connor, then a couple of Mississippi’s, and then everyone else.
After a four-point night against the Jets, McDavid now has a 15-point lead in the scoring race and is averaging a jaw-dropping 1.76 points per game. The last player to average more points per game in a season was Mario Lemieux, who averaged 1.77 in 2000-01.
(Side note, Lemieux came out of a three-year retirement in late December that season, scored three points in his first game back, and finished the season with 76 points in 43 games. Unreal.)
So, this is who McDavid is competing with now when it comes to several key offensive categories -- legends of past generations and his own performances. His peers simply can’t keep up. Already a two-time scoring champion and Ted Lindsay Award winner, McDavid has not yet peaked. The 24-year old is still getting better, which is terrifying news if you’re a member of one of the other 30, soon-to-be 31, teams in the NHL.
McDavid’s points per game average has gone up each year he’s been in the league. In his rookie year, McDavid averaged 1.07 points per game. He eclipsed the 1.5 points per game threshold for the first time last season. This season, he’s officially closer to two points per game than he is one and a half.
So, how far can McDavid go? Can he get to a place where he’s pushing up against two points per game? It seems ridiculous to suggest that any player could do that, but if anyone can it’s McDavid.
When attempting to forecast future offensive results, it’s important to evaluate the process that drives those results. The argument for McDavid to continue increasing his scoring output comes from the knowledge that he continues to trend upwards when it comes to creating quality scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
Moving the puck, possessing the puck, and generating chances all drive results and McDavid is hitting levels in a few of these key areas that nobody has hit since he entered the league.
In what will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, McDavid leads the league in controlled zone entries and rush scoring chances. Chalk up one of each every time you see McDavid do this….
McDavid is averaging 9.4 controlled zone entries per game, which is the second-highest total of his career. He averaged 10 per game in the 2017-18 season when he won the scoring title. Some context: Mat Barzal is second to McDavid in this area, averaging 7.3 entries per game. That’s over two entries per game behind McDavid. An average NHL forward averages roughly two or three entries per game. McDavid is in a league of his own when it comes to skating the puck through the neutral zone.
Getting the puck into the offensive zone is one thing, creating quality scoring chances from those entries is another. This is where elite offensive players pull away from the pack. It’s tough to gain the blue line with the puck; tougher still to take the puck to the net for a quality shot. McDavid has an advantage on the competition in this area because his legs simply move faster than everyone else’s. Not only does McDavid lead the league in scoring chances off the rush, but he’s also blowing everyone else out of the water.
McDavid is averaging 1.6 rush scoring chances per game, which would be more than any player has averaged since he entered the league. As for finishing on these chances, McDavid’s 12 rush goals also lead the league -- nobody else is in double digits.
Another metric dominated by the top offensive players in the game is offensive zone puck possession -- how often a player has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Not only has McDavid torched opponents off the rush, but he’s also controlling the game in the offensive zone more than he ever has.
McDavid is leading the league in offensive zone puck possession per game for the first time in his career. He’s always been among the leaders, but there has been a noticeable uptick this season.
The bump in puck possession is also partially responsible for McDavid averaging a career-high 4.2 scoring chances per game, which is the highest total of his career.
As deadly as McDavid is off the rush, he isn’t afraid to slow the game down either, waiting for a second wave before making a pass to an open teammate.
McDavid has never averaged more than one assist per game. He came close last season, finishing with 63 assists in 64 games. He’s going to do it this year.
McDavid leads the league with 53 assists in 46 games. It’s no coincidence he is also finding teammates in high danger scoring areas at the highest rate of his career. In addition to averaging over four scoring chances per game for the first time, McDavid is also hitting teammates with passes in the slot over four times per game for the first time. His 4.2 slot pass completions are the most by any player this season and the most by any player since McDavid entered the league.
Nearly 80 per cent of all goals scored in the NHL this season have come from the home plate, slot area. Get the puck to your teammates here and you increase your odds of generating an assist. The two go hand-in-hand and McDavid has been teeing his teammates up for quality shots all season.
McDavid is skating the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone more than anyone. He has the puck in the offensive zone more than anyone. He creates chances for himself and his teammates at a higher rate than anyone. Not only is McDavid leading all players in many of the most important offensive statistics that lead to points, but he’s outpacing his own lofty benchmarks set in past MVP seasons.
Unequivocally, this is the best hockey we’ve ever seen from Connor McDavid.
There should be no debate as to who the MVP of the league is this season. McDavid has pushed his game to a level we haven’t seen in the NHL since, well, maybe Mario. McDavid is going to win the scoring title, the Hart and the Lindsay. All that’s left at this point is to see whether he can do something that seemed impossible at the start of the season -- score 100 points in 56 games.
I’ll be honest, as recently as 24 hours ago I didn’t think McDavid could do it. Lesson learned. I’m a believer now. Thanks to Monday night's ridiculous performance, McDavid is now averaging 1.76 points per game, and 1.78 would get him to 100 points.
Impossible doesn’t exist when it comes to Connor McDavid.