We are officially nine weeks away from the beginning of the 2015-16 National Hockey League season. This season may be one of the most highly-anticipated seasons in recent memory.
Beginning this week and every Wednesday leading up to opening night on October 7, we will focus on what to expect out of certain teams, players, and anything that people should be paying attention to around the NHL this year.
This week, we begin by focusing on what to expect out of Edmonton Oilers rookie, Connor McDavid.
Going into his 2014-15 season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, McDavid was projected to be the next best prospect since Pittsburgh Penguins forward, Sidney Crosby in 2005.
McDavid surely did not disappoint the fans in Erie, and also hockey scouts around the NHL.
McDavid started his season on fire with 29 points in his first 10 games, which was the best total for a player in the Canadian Hockey League ever heading into their draft year.
McDavid would continue his hot streak all the way into November, as he would tally up 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in just 18 games with the Otters.
On November 11, in a game against the Mississauga Steelheads, McDavid broke his hand in a fight with Bryson Ciafrone, which jeopardized his chance of competing in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships for his home country of Canada.
McDavid was able to heal just in time to play in the tournament held in Montreal and Toronto. McDavid finished the tournament with three goals and eight assists in just seven games, and helped Canada win the Gold Medal in the championship game.
McDavid returned to the Otters, and left off right from where he was in November. McDavid finished his regular season in Erie with 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists), and helped the Otters win the Midwest Division in the OHL’s Western Conference.
In the playoffs, McDavid seemed unstoppable.
The Otters got past the Sarnia Sting in the first round in five games, then the Otters got past the, division rival, London Knights in the second round in four games, and then the Otters got a six-game series win over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to win the Western Conference title.
In the 15 games against Sarnia, London, and Sault Ste. Marie, McDavid scored 19 goals, and added 23 assists.
Also in that stretch, McDavid had a five-goal game on April 10 in game two against London, and also had a hat-trick on April 23 in game one against Sault Ste. Marie.
McDavid and the Otter will finally haulted by the Oshawa Generals in the OHL Championship Round, as McDavid was held to just seven points in five games. What was even more astonishing was that McDavid was held pointless twice in the series, where he was held pointless only twice all year prior to the series with Oshawa.
Even though the Otters were eliminated early against ther Generals, McDavid was awarded the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the OHL’s Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.
But the accolades did not stop there, as McDavid was also awarded OHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year, The OHL’s Most Outstanding Player, was an OHL First-Team All-Star, won the CHL Scholastic Player of the Year, the CHL Top Draft Prospect Award, and was awarded the CHL Most Valuable Player.
So where does McDavid compare to Crosby in his draft year?
McDavid finished his draft year with 120 points (44 goals, 76 assists) in just 47 games. McDavid also finished with 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in just 19 playoff games. Where as Crosby finished with 168 points (66 goals, 102 assists) in 62 games with Rimouski Oceanic, and 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 13 playoff games.
McDavid averaged around 2.6 points per game in the regular season, and also in the playoffs with the Otters. For Crosby, he averaged over 2.7 points per game in the regular season of his draft year, and also averaged over 2.3 points per game in the postseason.
But what if McDavid remained healthy, and was able to play the entire season? Could he have been the best prospect to ever to play in the CHL?
Shortly after McDavid was drafted by the Oilers, the team held its annual development camp, and the fans of Edmonton went crazy. Fans flocked in to the Rexall Place to see the proverbial, “McJesus” play in an Oilers uniform for the first time.
In the team’s development camp scrimmage, McDavid was stellar by scoring five goals in the game. Granted, it was mainly 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 action, but he was making plays the Oilers would hope to see on the ice in any situation.
But how fast can McDavid transition from the OHL to the NHL, and how well will McDavid play in his first season in the NHL?
Many people are firm in their beliefs that McDavid should have an easy transition to the NHL level. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player to ever play in the NHL, believes that McDavid will make a seamless transition between leagues. Gretzky has even gone far enough to say that he hopes McDavid is able to break some of his records in NHL history, which many say that his records are unbreakable.
McDavid is going to play in a tough Western Conference that has been well-known for its more physical style of play. Not to say that the Eastern Conference is not physical, but in terms of most players in the West, size matters.
However, if you have the skill and speed to combat the size and physicality, you could have some success in the Western Conference.
Patrick Kane was once in similar shoes as Connor McDavid is right now. Kane was the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kane, an American-born forward from Buffalo, was a standout prospect from the London Knights in the OHL back in the 2006-07 season. Kane finished his draft year with 62 goals and 83 assists in just 58 games with the Knights. Kane also had 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists) in 16 playoff games.
Kane finished his rookie season in the OHL with the most points in the league, and was in the running for the Player of the Year award. But those were not the only accomplishments Kane had achieved in his time in the OHL. Kane was an OHL First-Team All-Star, a CHL First-Team All-Star, the CHL’s Top Scorer, and the CHL Rookie of the Year.
After being the top overall selection, Kane was on the Blackhawks opening night roster in the 2007-08 season. In his rookie season with the Blackhawks, Kane scored 21 goals and added 51 assists in a full 82-game season for Chicago. He was part of the NHL All-Rookie Team at the end of the year, and also won the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year.
Since his rookie year in the NHL, Kane has went on to score 184 goals and 301 assists in the regular season, but also has 48 goals and 114 points in 116 playoff games with the Blackhawks.
On top of all the stats, Kane has been one of the league’s best players, a perennial all-star, an Olympic silver medalist in 2010, and also a three-time Stanley Cup Champion with Chicago. Kane also scored the game-winning overtime goal in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals to give the Blackhawks its first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.
The kicker is that Kane is only 5′ 10″ and 176-pounds, but he is clearly one of the most electrifying players in the Western Conference. Kane can use his body to protect to puck, and is the scrappy blue-collar kid we all know from South Buffalo, but it is really his speed and skill-set which has made him so good over the years. Kane also has the crafty hands and swift skating abilities that McDavid has in his arsenal.
What makes McDavid different from Kane is that McDavid is bigger than Kane at 6′ 1″ and 194-pounds, and McDavid is said to be faster, and even more skilled than Kane is.
Another key that will make McDavid’s transition more easier is the talent level that surrounds McDavid and also the other top-talent players on the Oilers’ roster.
It all began with the hiring of former Boston Bruins general manager, Peter Chiarelli as the general manager and President of Hockey Operations for the Oilers. Chiarelli then went out and hired Todd McLellan as the Oilers’ head coach after his tenure with the San Jose Sharks was over.
The Oilers were then able to finally announce the drafting of McDavid just over two months removed from winning the NHL Draft Lottery in April.
But the moves did not stop there, as later on during the first round of draft night, Edmonton traded its 16th overall pick to the New York Islanders for defenseman Griffin Reinhart, a former fourth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
The next day, Chiarelli made more moves to bolster the blueline and the goal crease. Edmonton would go out and acquire defenseman Eric Gryba from the Ottawa Senators, and also acquire goalie Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers.
In free agency, Chiarelli signed defenseman Andrej Sekera to a five-year deal, and also signed on forward Mark Letestu to a three-year deal.
The Oilers also went out and acquired forward Lauri Korpikoski from the Arizona Coyotes during the free agency period.
Then on July 3, the Oilers locked up its future superstar to his first career professional contract. McDavid signed on for three-years for the max-salary a rookie can sign to in his entry-level contract.
Now that McDavid is signed, and Chiarelli has changed the complexion of the Oilers’ roster, it is time to get to business in the 2015-16 season.
Many Oilers fans would love to see McDavid play the top-line spot right away with 2010 first overall selection Taylor Hall on his left, and Jordan Eberle on his right side. McDavid is not quite ready for the spotlight of the first line yet, but it certainly is not out of the question as to if he will play at all on the first line.
As of right now, McDavid will probably start on the second line which could feature a line of top five drafted players in the NHL Draft. It seems as though McDavid could play on a line with 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov on his right side, but the left side of the ice remains in question. Does he play with Benoit Pouliot, who was signed to a five-year contract last summer, or does he play with third overall pick from the 2014 NHL Draft in Leon Draisaitl?
Draisaitl may not be ready to play in the NHL once again, and may go back to play with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. If that is the case, it would most likely be Pouliot. But one can never know who will impress in training camp, and who can steal a spot on the roster.
Whatever the case may be, McDavid will be surrounded with talent who can put the puck in the net, and who can also help set him up on scoring opportunities.
If he plays on a line with Yakupov and Pouliot or Draisaitl, how many points could McDavid actually score?
If McDavid can find some chemistry with any of these three players on a line, McDavid could have more points than Kane did in his rookie season. Is McDavid going to break any records by rookies? It could happen, but it seems highly doubtful. He would have to beat Teemu Selanne’s 76 goals in his rookie year, or Peter Stastny and Joe Juneau’s 70 assists in their rookie year.
It would be a fair statement to say that McDavid could score anywhere from 25-30 goals, and register anywhere from 50-60 assists in his rookie year. Nothing record breaking, but it would be a remarkable achievement in his rookie year.
It may be fair to say that McDavid may take a few games to adjust to the NHL level. Give him 10-15 games to really make the adjustment to the NHL speed, he will be back on pace with the rest of the league.
Either way, McDavid is going to makes waves around the league in his rookie season. McDavid is also going to be right up there in the Calder Trophy race as the NHL’s rookie of the year. On top of that, McDavid may be a huge reason as to why the Oilers may make the playoffs for the first time since the team made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Oilers are back on the map now with the moves made this offseason, of course, highlighted by the drafting of Connor McDavid. The league’s best prospect since Crosby in 2005 will have the spotlight on him all year, but McDavid is ready for it.
Expect great things from McDavid, not only in the 2015-16 season in Edmonton, but for the years to come in his time in the NHL.
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