How do we define greatness in the modern NHL? For me, Connor McDavid is the epitome of greatness. It’s not just because he’s a hard worker who is utterly elite at what he does for a living. It’s because McDavid’s exploits have become commonplace to talk about among players and fans of every team. Listen to any game or conversation when the Oilers play an opponent, and the conversation almost always shifts to McDavid at some point. There’s not really people out there talking negatively about him. Almost everything you hear is praise.
In other leagues, there’s a debate about who is the best player in the sport. The NBA debate is raging on right now – is it Nikola Jokic? Joel Embiid? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? Steph Curry?
In the NFL, the conversation shifts from Patrick Mahomes to Joe Burrow or Josh Allen, maybe even guys like Jalen Hurts or Justin Jefferson have entered the debate.
I think most would agree that it’s Mike Trout in the MLB “best player” debate, but injuries and lack of availability have opened the door to a wider debate.
In the NHL, there’s no debate. It’s McDavid… then everyone else.
What’s the ceiling for Oilers captain Connor McDavid?
To be frank? It’s not clear a ceiling even exists. Given what he’s accomplished in his young career, McDavid is on a pace to achieve greatness. He’s won the Art Ross Trophy (given to the NHL’s leader in points at the end of the regular season) four times. He’s won the Hart Trophy (given to the NHL’s regular season MVP) twice. He currently leads the NHL in scoring – with a mind-boggling 92 points in 50 games played. That’s 41 goals and 51 assists for the electrifying player, 16 more total points than the next closest player. That player has 76 points, and it’s none other than McDavid’s teammate, Leon Draisaitl.
So why do I describe McDavid as an alien?
I’m not the first, for starters. Washington Capitals forward and future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin once said that McDavid is “from a different planet.” Ovechkin’s praise is real, and the Capitals captain himself is pushing to set NHL records as he treks towards Wayne Gretzky’s career goals scored record.
McDavid remains on pace to put up at least 150 points this season. The last time that we saw numbers like that, they were being posted by another Hall of Fame talent in Pittsburgh Penguins forward Mario Lemieux (69 goals, 92 assists) way back in the 1995-1996 season.
The only players to ever hit that magical threshold (150 points in a single season) are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito and Bernie Nichols. Nichols, Esposito and Yzerman each accomplished this feat once. Lemieux did it four times. And Gretzky, widely regarded as the greatest hockey player of all-time, accomplished it nine times.
There’s only one thing left McDavid needs.
The ultimate goal of every NHL player is to win the Stanley Cup. If McDavid achieves that, he’s a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. He’s already 187th in career points scored, with a chance to move up to the top 150 this season at his current pace.
While the individual trophies are nice, the Stanley Cup is the last piece of hardware eluding McDavid. It’s the last thing missing on his mantle. The player he’s most often compared to is Wayne Gretzky, the best of the best in NHL history. Gretzky, like McDavid, was a record setting player, but he was very much aware of his own record hunting. He was even able to recall each record he set from memory alone. Perhaps he was able to do so because he’d already won a Stanley Cup by the time he was 23.
There are tiers in today’s NHL, but McDavid has carved out one of his own.
There are good players and great players.
Then elite players.
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