“The maturity that he has shown this year has risen to an even higher level,” said Gretzky told The Athleticreferring to McDavid. “And I don’t just mean in points. His physical game is much higher than in the past. His body language is that he doesn’t want to lose, and it’s contagious through the hockey club. “
The next Gretzky? Experts have started calling younger players, like rookie Jack Hughes the New Jersey Devils, “the next McDavid”.
McDavid is quick on the ice and remarkably skilled. But that wouldn’t be enough for some ice hockey fans. They are impressed with skill and adore those who can add at least a rough game to it.
Gretzky isn’t the only one who noticed McDavid’s physicality. In March, McDavid delivered a penalty stroke on Jesperi Kotkaniemi of the Montreal Canadiens who drives his elbow into Kotkaniemi’s shoulder and jaw. He was fined but not suspended. The incident resulted in tut-tutting from some corners, even though there was no corner in Edmonton.
If there is a strike in McDavid’s season it will depend on the quality of its competition. In this unusual NHL season, the teams only play against others in their division, and the Oilers are in the all-Canadian Northern division. It’s hard to gauge exactly how strong each division is because so many common opponents aren’t met. Last season, the Oilers, the best Canadian team, were only the eighth best team in the league. And no Canadian team has reached the Stanley Cup final in 10 years or won it in 28 years.
McDavid has been playing hockey since he was four and has at least been heralded across the continent since he was 13. The Oilers took him No. 1 on the NHL draft and he was instantly anointed as a savior who would save a team that, after a dynasty won five Stanley Cups from 1983 to 1990, missed the playoffs for nine straight years. “I think my expectations of myself exceed any expectations that are placed on me.” That was what McDavid said at the time.
The Oilers have made the playoffs twice in McDavid’s tenure, setting an 8-9 record there. They seem to be getting the second seed in the north this season, and potential first and second round series against the Jets, Canadiens or Maple Leafs seem winnable.
McDavid goes into a game against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night and needs seven points in five games to reach 100. He has scored a point in 40 of 51 games this season, has 24 points in his last 10 games and 12 in his last five. Injury aside, he’s likely to get there and beyond.