“I said to him that he needs to score 60 goals because I know that he can,” Draisaitl told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. “And I think he should be every year, he’s just that unselfish.”
McDavid, who had never before scaled the 50-goal plateau in the NHL, went on to score 64. His 153 points were the most in an NHL season since Mario Lemieux had 161 in 1995-96.
Fast forward 12 months, and it was with much glee that Oilers fans heard Sidney Crosby raise the possibility of McDavid reaching 170 points in the 2023-24 season, in conversation with Mike Zeisberger of NHL.com.
“I didn’t think 150 was going to be in the cards for him, but he found a way to get there,” Crosby said last week. “He just finds a way to find another level time and time again, so I would never bet against him.”
One hundred and seventy points?
It’s happened only seven times in NHL history: Six by Wayne Gretzky and once by Lemieux.
McDavid, of course, was coy on the challenge. He was not, however, backing down.
“It’s cool when someone like that says that about you but numbers are kind of irrelevant at this point,” he said Wednesday. “Obviously, we want to produce, but we want to win games. That’s the main thing.”
Later that night, McDavid would tuck home the overtime winner in a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. At the morning skate, however, a relaxed McDavid held court with reporters before his first pre-season game.
He’s 26 now and prepping for his ninth NHL season. Finally, McDavid has grown into a captain, a spokesman and the “face of the game” — all roles that were given to him as a teenager, far before he was comfortable with the responsibilities.
That he has not played a shift with Crosby in a Team Canada uniform is criminal. But the fact is, despite a couple of world championships early in his career, McDavid hasn’t worn a Team Canada jersey in a best-on-best tournament since his last world juniors, in 2015.
“I certainly don’t feel good about it,” said McDavid, who has grown up on highlights of Gretzky-to-Lemieux at the 1987 Canada Cup, or Crosby scoring the Golden Goal in Vancouver. “That Mario and Gretz goal — or Sid in 2010 — these are iconic moments and they only happen at best-on-best tournaments. We’ve been missing it for a long time, and everybody is hoping to get that back.
“I think that we’re missing a huge chunk of international play, best-on-best. What goals are you going to see?”
There was a time when McDavid would let others do the talking for him on the best-on-best front. But over the years, he’s spoken out more and more.
“I’m never going to lighten up on the best-on-best issue — it’s something that I feel very strongly about,” he said. “When the top guys are talking about it, hopefully, the right people are listening.”
McDavid-to-Crosby could be the Gretzky-to-Lemieux of a new generation of hockey fans. But if they ever end up on the same line, who moves over to the wing?
“I’ll go there. I’ll play my off-wing, no worries,” Crosby told the “32 Thoughts” earlier this month. “Listen, I’ve skated with him and I’ve played both, so I think I’m good either way with playing centre or wing, whatever he wants to do. He can carry the mail. I’ll just find the opening.”
McDavid doesn’t defer to many, nor should he as the top player in the game. But he defers to Crosby, a player he revered as a youngster.
“We (are talking) about one of the greatest of all time, just in terms of what he’s done. Individually, winning at every level. He’s done it all, and done it at a very high level for a long time,” McDavid said. “Nothing but respect for him and everything he’s done.”
With five Art Ross trophies to Crosby’s two, and three Hart trophies to Crosby’s two, McDavid will finish his career with far more personal hardware than Crosby. But don’t forget Crosby’s two Conn Smythe trophies, and most importantly, the three Stanley Cups the Penguins have won during Crosby’s time there.
Until McDavid can deliver Big Stanley to Edmonton, the way Gretzky once did, he knows his resume won’t compare to the greats.
“Hockey is a team game, but with that being said, all those great guys have won before. And it’s certainly something that we’re after in Edmonton — there’s been no shortage of talk or coverage on that,” McDavid said. “I certainly feel that the greats, they’ve all won.
“That’s what you got to do.”