LOS ANGELES – It’s difficult for some Edmonton Oilers players to describe the level captain Connor McDavid has played in his recent stretch of games.
In almost every contest he has figured out a new and different way to help Edmonton put the puck in the net, and in the process leave his teammates speechless.
“That’s just how he is. I don’t know what to say. You guys see him play every night too. He’s just that good,” linemate Leon Draisaitl said. “Sometimes you just can’t stop him. I don’ t know what else to say to you. He’s just that good.”
The 20-year-old McDavid has picked up a point in each of his last 11 games for 20 overall in that stretch. During that span the Oilers have gone 9-2-0 and looked like a true playoff contender. McDavid has also put a stranglehold on the NHL’s scoring race now with 95 points overall – seven more than second-place Patrick Kane.
The Oilers currently have 97 points in 79 games and will finish in one of the top three spots in the Pacific Division. They are four points back of the Anaheim Ducks for first-place in the Pacific and Edmonton has one game in hand.
“Just when you think you’ve seen his highest level, he has cranked it up another notch,” Edmonton forward Milan Lucic said. “I think it’s just him embracing being the captain of this team and then embracing taking this team to another level where we can compete in the playoffs. To see him do that and play the way that he has, it has been a lot of fun to be his teammate, seeing him do that and doing it with him. We’re going to need him to continue being our best player and everyone else stepping up their game and following his lead.”
It’s hard to tell how McDavid took typically superb level and made it better. It’s not like he became faster or more offensively creative later in the season. Talking to the Oilers, it more had to do with a young player sensing the importance of upcoming games and willing himself more each and every night to push his team.
“I think with him he’s got the ability and the talent that surpasses anyone in this league. He’s one of those generational players,” Oilers forward Jordan Eberle said. “I think once he got confidence and realized how good he is (at this level) he was just going to get better and that’s what he has done. He has really driven the bus for us this last little run here and all season really.”
When asked about his late-season scoring surge, McDavid gave the credit to others – noting that when the Oilers play well as a group his numbers tend to go up.
“The team seem to be clicking,” McDavid said. “My linemates are playing great. Everything seems to be doing well. When the team is doing well, that’s when individuals are going to find success as well and that could be a part of it. “
Though McDavid is having the best offensive season in the NHL this year, there are some questions on whether he can lead the Oilers to a playoff run in his first NHL postseason. This will also be Edmonton’s first playoff appearance since 2005-06.
He did get 49 points in 20 Memorial Cup playoff games in 2014-15 with the Erie Otters, but the NHL postseason is a totally different animal. Players are bigger and stronger and teams will try to muscle McDavid to knock him off his game. Going against Ryan Kesler, for example, in a seven-game series is different than a major junior player in the playoffs.
But at very least the way he has finished his season – playing as well as he has against teams fighting for the postseason – has given the Oilers hope that his adjustment period will be limited. As other teams have ramped up their games so has McDavid, which is encouraging for Edmonton that McDavid will embrace playoff pressure rather than wilt in the face of it.
“He’ll be gung ho (in the playoffs). He’ll have his team ready. He’ll be excited about playing and I don’t think there’s any other way of describing it,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s encouraging when your leader (plays well down the stretch) because everyone else picks up their (games) as well. It’s almost expected of him. It’s not a surprise. It’s not a ‘holy wow what’s happening’ moment for our organization. He has been that good over the last little bit. He has elevated his game and everyone else has followed.”
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