A lot of people in the NHL are convinced Connor McDavid is the fastest player in the league.
More and more are beginning to believe the Edmonton Oilers forward is on a fast track to becoming the best player in the league.
“He’s got everything,” Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said this week. “He’s got the updated software. He thinks the game, sees the game, at a high, high level, and he plays it at a high level.
“So he’s not only a step ahead of you mentally, but he’s physically hard to contain. And that’s all you’re trying to do.”
Peters gained a better appreciation for McDavid as head coach of Team Canada in the 2016 World Championship in Russia. Canada won the gold medal as McDavid, then 19, had nine points in the 10-game event.
“He’s a factor in each and every game,” Peters said. “It feels like, when I coached him, that every shift it was ‘Geez, he almost broke that’ and ‘Geez, it was that close.’ He’s a game-breaker, he really is.”
There’s always hype with the No. 1 pick of the NHL draft, but McDavid’s was off the charts. He was called a wunderkind, a generational player, the “next Sidney Crosby” and more before the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
McDavid’s first NHL season was marred by a broken collarbone suffered against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3, 2015. The injury prevented Canes fans from getting their first look at him when the Oilers played at PNC Arena later in November.
McDavid, who turned 20 last month, was third in the 2016 Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year despite playing 45 games. Named Oilers captain, he’s the youngest player in the league to wear a “C” and went into Thursday’s road game against the Nashville Predators leading the NHL in points (59) and assists (42).
“The first thing that comes to mind with him is his speed,” said Flyers center Chris VandeVelde, who was matched up against McDavid much of their game in December. “It’s second to none, a different level.”
It was at the NHL All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. McDavid won the fastest skater competition, easily beating speedy forward Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche in their head-to-head race and then nearly eclipsing the All-Star record set by Detroit’s Dylan Larkin last year.
“He’s the total package,” VandeVelde said. “When he’s coming with that much speed, with those good hands, it’s basically impossible to stop him sometimes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy who gets that much faster with the puck. It’s scary.”
McDavid had a goal and assist against the Flyers in a 6-5 loss but did not have a point against Carolina in October in Edmonton. The Oilers took a 3-0 lead and won 3-2 win as Lee Stempniak scored both Canes goals.
Canes defenseman Ron Hainsey said McDavid has “certainly the most explosive first step we’ve seen in a while.”
Hainsey said the Canes had been shown video of McDavid “blowing by people.” On an early shift, Hainsey and Justin Faulk were in the neutral zone when McDavid swept in to grab a loose puck at top speed.
“We had to panic, close the middle and kind of grab him to stop him from going in on a breakaway,” said Hainsey, who was called for hooking. “On everybody else we could have recovered but his step to that puck was so explosive. It’s a player you have to play a little differently.”
Canes forward Brock McGinn competed against McDavid in the Ontario Hockey League – McGinn with the Guelph Storm and McDavid with the Erie Otters. McDavid, a native of Richmond Hill, Ont., was awarded “exceptional player” status and allowed to start play in the OHL at 15.
“He came in at 15 and was kind of already dominating the league,” McGinn said. “He does everything at such a high pace. You have to try and take away his time and space and hopefully frustrate him a little.
“He’s the kind of player when he’s got the puck he’s fun to watch. He’s a dynamic player.”
Oilers at Hurricanes
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.