How Connor McDavid separates himself from his peers beyond goals, points

Former NHL player and Sportsnet commentator Louie DeBrusk describes what makes Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid such a special talent and explains why he demands so much attention from opposing teams.

Connor McDavid is well on his way to his first Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, third Hart Trophy and fifth Art Ross Trophy. Not since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 has an NHL player won all three awards in the same season. (Ovechkin also received the Ted Lindsay Award from his fellow players that year, which McDavid is certain to get as well.)

McDavid’s 131 points are already the most in the salary cap era, and he is on pace to be the first player to crack 150 since before he was born, when Mario Lemieux had 161 points in 1995-96.

Simply put, we are witnessing greatness at work.

“I’ve had some pretty good years before,” McDavid nonchalantly told reporters earlier this month. “It doesn’t really feel all that different.”

The gap between McDavid and his peers is not limited only to goals and points. No one comes close to McDavid when it comes to bringing the puck into the offensive zone. His 618 carry-ins in all situations are 107 more than the next closest player, Jack Hughes. He also gets around defenders better than anyone, executing 102 more dekes than Kirill Kaprizov.

Those attributes fuel McDavid’s greatest superpower — his ability to create offence off the rush. McDavid has scored 25 of his 57 goals in such fashion — the most since Sportlogiq began tracking that data in 2016-17. The previous high was 19, set by McDavid in 2016-17 and matched by teammate Leon Draisaitl in 2018-19.

Because opponents have no choice but to respect McDavid whenever he barrels down the ice, it opens lanes for his teammates to attack the net. The Oilers have generated 225 scoring chances off of McDavid carry-ins — 68 more than anyone else.

Although overshadowed by his transcendent offensive ability, McDavid has made modest gains on the defensive side of the puck. He has been on the ice for 0.71 expected goals per 20 minutes at 5-on-5, which places him a respectable 133rd out of 483 forwards who have played at least 100 minutes in that situation. That is an improvement over last season, when McDavid was 219th out of 521 qualified forwards with 0.82 on-ice XGA per 20.

Also notable is the fact that McDavid is averaging a career-high 1:19 of shorthanded ice time per game. He has had a hand in six of the Oilers’ league-leading 13 shorthanded goals, using his speed to pressure opponents into turnovers.

“His overall game since he got in the league to now — he’s not just scoring. He does everything out there,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman told The Athletic. “He’s penalty killing this year, whereas last year he wasn’t as much. Now, he’s taken a prime role in that, too. It’s faceoffs. It’s everything. He’s driving the bus. He’s doing it every year, and he’s getting better at it.”

Two years ago, McDavid was the unanimous choice for MVP, joining Wayne Gretzky (1981-82) as the only players to receive every first-place vote for the Hart Trophy, which was first presented in 1923-24. There should be no doubt this time, either.

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