Iain MacIntyre: Nothing normal about Connor McDavid

 

Edmonton Oilers rookie is a special player, even if he hasn’t looked that way during the early going

 
 
 
 
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is pictured during the warm-up prior to facing the Vancouver Canucks before Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena.
 
 

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is pictured during the warm-up prior to facing the Vancouver Canucks before Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena.

Photograph by: BEN NELMS, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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National Hockey League superstar Steve Stamkos declared before Connor McDavid played his first game that the 18-year-old was the better player. Already.

Vancouver Canuck general manager Jim Benning, who has scouted for 20 years and knows about such things, said McDavid is the best prospect he has ever seen. And Benning saw Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares and others.

So while McDavid may be a teenage rookie in the best league in the world, nobody sees him that way. Except, sometimes, when he plays.

The Edmonton Oilers’ McSavior, this once-in-a-generation talent, played his first NHL game in Vancouver on Sunday in his team’s 2-1 overtime win against the Canucks.

McDavid was invisible for one shift. Then on his second shift, he sifted through Canuck defenceman Luca Sbisa, using the boards to play a give-and-go to himself, then spotted linemate Nail Yakupov streaking into the high slot. Yakupov one-timed McDavid’s perfect pass past Canuck goalie Ryan Miller to make it 1-0 on an Oiler power play at 3:23 of the first period.

While Sbisa looked for his underthings, everyone at Rogers Arena should have been looking for their camera-phones to record what was a perfect introduction for McDavid — the first bookend to what should be a long, productive rivalry against the Canucks in the Pacific Division.

McDavid is a special player, even if he hasn’t looked that way during each of his first few steps in the NHL.

I mean, we’re six games into his career and McDavid isn’t even leading the league in scoring yet. How can we measure him against Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe when McDavid doesn’t measure up to Kyle Okposo in October?

McDavid will has a ways to go if he’s to win the Hart Trophy and well as the Calder this season.

It took him three games to score his first NHL goal (and point) in Dallas. Then he returned to Edmonton and in his Oilers’ home debut went pointless in minus-three. His two-goal, three-point game in his first NHL victory, Edmonton’s 5-2 win Saturday in Calgary, may or may not constitute McDavid’s breakout game because the bar, as we’ve said, is rather high. Maybe he needs to score five goals in one night for it to be considered his breakout game.

Certainly, McDavid wasn’t nearly as good Sunday against the Canucks as he was Saturday against the Flames.

But his assist, after Sbisa stepped up on him aggressively as McDavid carried the puck in the Canucks’ zone, was a moment of brilliance. You won’t still be seeing it on highlights shows 10 years from now, like you will Canuck Daniel Sedin’s shocking miss in the third period when the former scoring champion used a lob wedge instead of a putter and put a puck over an open net from three feet away.

But in Vancouver, if you love hockey and track history and McDavid is even half as good as he is projected to be, you’ll probably remember the turnstyling of Sbisa and set up for Yakupov.

“Yak’s a pretty good shooter, so when you get the puck in his hands, most times it goes in,” McDavid said in his soft-spoken monotone. “We pre-scouted them, obviously. That’s kind what they’re penalty kill is like ... they wait for you to get to the blueline and then they make their hard stance. You can kind of expect that. I just tried to get it deep and go from there.”

McDavid began the season with powerful winger Taylor Hall, but since each first-overall pick loves to carry the puck, the combination failed miserably. Sunday was the third game he skated with Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot on the Oilers’ second line.

Canuck coach Willie Desjardins countered McDavid with Brandon Sutter, who returned to centre from right wing and partnered with Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata.

The Oilers won despite being outplayed, and their best player by a mile was goalie Anders Nilsson.

McDavid finished with just one shot on goal and went 3-6 in the faceoff circle. Sutter, Vrbata and Burrows had the better even-strength scoring chances.

“Yeah, but he’s an unreal player,” Burrows said of McDavid. “He’s going to be a great player for a long time. He’s pretty dynamic the way he skates and handles the puck. And he’s only 18. He’ll probably grow another inch and add 20 pounds. He’ll be something to see.

“Overall, we did a pretty good job against him. You have to play those guys hard or they’re going to abuse you.”

Regardless of how well McDavid remembers his first game in Vancouver, it didn’t sound like Burrows will forget the game he went head-to-head against the best prospect in a generation.

“I’m a competitive guy and it’s always nice to challenge yourself against the best players,” the Canuck said. “I remember when I first started playing with Danny and Hank (Sedin) and we’d be out against the other team’s best players. Sometimes there were nine Olympians on the ice and me, and I’m thinking: ‘I don’t belong here.’ But you always want to play against the best.”

Sunday, McDavid wasn’t the best. Maybe soon. Maybe.

The initial charge of reporters in the Oilers’ dressing room was towards McDavid, not Nilsson nor overtime scorer Lauri Korpikoski. Asked if it will be easier to play hockey after what amounts to then inaugural press tour around the NHL, McDavid said: “I think so, yeah. I’m definitely looking for some sense of normal. I’m not trying to get too involved in all that (media) stuff. But I’m looking for some sense of normal.”

Good luck.

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is pictured during the warm-up prior to facing the Vancouver Canucks before Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena.
 

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is pictured during the warm-up prior to facing the Vancouver Canucks before Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena.

Photograph by: BEN NELMS, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is pictured during the warm-up prior to facing the Vancouver Canucks before Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena.
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks race to the puck during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on Sunday.
Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller (30) makes a save against Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver on Sunday.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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