Commentary: Connor McDavid, the phenom who escapes our minds

Still of a game by the Philadelphia Flyers against the Oilers. (Courtesy of NHL)

Think of this: You’re a defender in the NHL. A young player skates straight at you with bullet-like speed. The blitzing pace hinders your awareness and decision-making.

In a split second, your eyes spot a lefty-curve on the blade. You take the right lane, forcing him to his backhand. But it wouldn’t have mattered. You could have forced him to either side, could have thrown a hit, could have poke-checked and the puck would have gone between your legs.

Anyone else and you would have made the right play, but this isn’t anyone else, this is the most offensively gifted player since The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, and he made you look foolish on the ice.

This is Connor McDavid.

The phenom, McDavid, was touted as a generational talent by every hockey analyst and thus was drafted first overall in 2015 when the Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery. 

“McDavid is a catalyst for positive plays in all three zones. Thinks the game analytically and recognizes scoring chances before they have even happened,” said Elite Prospects’ Curtis Joe in 2014. 

What makes McDavid the top player in the toughest hockey league in the world is his elite skills and his sharp hockey IQ. There are other players who may succeed in having better skills such as American dangler Patrick Kane, or better IQ like Sidney Crosby, however McDavid puts everything together, complete with the fastest skates ever seen.

“Going right from junior to the NHL? That’s a big step for Connor. But he’s the one guy who can handle it. He’ll be fine. With his speed and his shot and his creativity and his hockey knowledge, that’s as good as anybody,” Gretzky told the Edmonton Journal in 2015. 

Since his inception in 2015, McDavid has amassed almost 800 points, which he’ll surely pass before the Stanley Cup is raised to conclude this season, in just under 550 career games. Operating at a 1.46 points-per-game average over his career, so far, is nothing short of spectacular. Selfishly, us fans expect it from the four-time league leading scorer. 

McDavid is 5th all time in points for players under 26 years of age, trailing only Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, and the late Dale Hawerchuk. 

What makes him great? His shot is wicked accurate and his backhand is an offensive tool he’ll use regularly, which is a statistically worse shot choice, yet, it’s as effective as most players’ forehand.

When watching him, he has the audacity to attempt moves and shots that players shy away from. Hockey is a team sport and you need teammates to succeed. But when a generational talent like McDavid is on your team, your mentality changes. You’re comfortable with allowing the two-time Hart Trophy winner (MVP) to work his magic and decipher the best choices to succeed.

An example of this is “iso.” Short for isolation, a one-on-one play develops, rendering teammates and the other defenders as spectators. This move is rarely used in hockey as teammates are utilized, however, when McDavid collects the puck, “iso” is exactly what makes him special.

The ability to beat one-to-four defenders at a time is unheard of. Never mind the difficulty. For #97, it’s a nightly occurrence. This is showcased by his creativity in a sport that desires “boring hockey.” 

This leads to the unpredictability of McJesus, as the fans have dubbed him. You think he’s going to do one thing, and then in a split-second he changes his angle and does something else — a tactic goalies and defenders have failed to solve for years. 

One of those tactics is when he takes a wide stance on a breakaway, rather than being straightforward with speed and deception. It gives the goalie a false sense of security in choosing how to make the save. A wide stance often indicates a shot instead of a deke, and that’s where his offensive repertoire shows and where his most effortless points come from.

Over the years, he’s treated viewers to the most creative and audacious plays, which defenders are continuously embarrassed by. For a player of his calibre and status, this is just another day in the office.

Amid his best offensive season ever — where he’s racked up 92 points and counting as of Jan. 29 — it seems as though everyone is unbothered by his incredible play.

The fans expect it. 

Seeing a highlight reel goal by him is magical. He dashes through the neutral zone with blazing wheels and stick handles his way to find the back of the net. Unreal. It’s a running joke in the hockey community where the phrase “what else is new?” is immediately attached to the event.

Watching him is a spectacle, and he’s the dream of any organization — a player who puts fans in seats. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be regarded as one of the best players to ever grace our eyes, but like the old saying goes, “you don’t appreciate a good thing until it’s gone.”