The Edmonton Oilers did what pretty much everybody expected them to do on Wednesday when they announced that Connor McDavid, at 19 years and 273 days old, would be the team’s first captain since Andrew Ference held the position two years ago. That made McDavid the youngest captain in NHL history. Not only is he the youngest captain in league history in terms of his age, he gets the position after having played in only 45 games.
“There’s no better guy to lead this team moving forward than one of the most exciting and best players in the league, said goalie Cam Talbot, via the Oilers’ website. “I don’t think they could have chosen a better guy for the job.”
Defenseman Darnell Nurse echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “You see every single night he goes out there and leads by example. He’s not afraid to say something when it needs to be said. For everyone in the room, he’s a great example of how you go out there and play every night. He takes it to a new level and definitely brings energy every night that we can feed off of.”
So now that he gets to wear the “C” before his 20th birthday, let’s take a quick look at how some of the other youngest captains in NHL history have fared, how tricky it can be to define their success (or lack of it), and whether or not this will work for the Oilers and McDavid.
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning
Age: 19 years, 315 days
Like McDavid, Lecavalier was a No. 1 overall pick and entered the league with massive expectations (though not quite on the same scale as McDavid). His rookie season was not quite as dominant, playing only 13 minutes per night and recording only 28 points. Even so, the Lightning named him their captain the following season (1999-00) along with veterans Bill Houlder and Chris Gratton (yes, three captains).
The following year Lecavalier was the only captain on the team and then had that responsibility taken away in 2001-02 when the Lightning went with no captain. Following that captainless season, Dave Andreychuk took over the role for three years (including the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season) until Tim Taylor took over for him for two years starting in 2006-07. It wasn’t until the 2008-09 season that Lecavalier was once again named captain of the Lightning, a role he maintained throughout the rest of his career with the team until he was bought out of his contract following the 2012-13 season.
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
Age: 20 years, 57 days
Landeskog burst onto the NHL scene in 2011-12 and not only put a 50-point season on the board, but also demonstrated a two-way game that was well beyond his years for the Avalanche. The team responded the following season by naming him the captain, a position he still holds today. The Avalanche haven’t had a ton of success as a team during his run, and the “core” has been called out at times in recent years for the team’s failings on the ice, but the issue in Colorado is still the fact the core has very little help around them in terms of forward depth and the defense.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Age: 20 years, 59 days
In the mid-2000s the Penguins went through a four-season stretch where the Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr era was closing and the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era had yet to begin. The result was a lot of losing and a lot of ugly hockey. But the arrival of Crosby in 2005-06 started to change that. During his first two years on the team the Penguins had no captain until he was given the responsibility prior to the 2007-08 season, which would go on to be the first of the Penguins’ three Stanley Cup Final appearances with Crosby. He won his first Stanley Cup at the age of 21. Between that Cup, and the one the Penguins won in 2016, there were a lot of disappointing postseason appearances and as is always the case the “core” took a lot of that blame. But it again comes back to depth and what’s around those top players. When those areas improved, so did the team success.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Age: 20 years, 164 days
It hasn’t taken Toews long to become known as the greatest winner in hockey today. Captain serious. The guy that scores the big goals and wills teams to victory. Three Stanley Cups in six years will do that. Sometimes it’s a little over the top because without the supporting cast that he has had around him in Chicago none of those championships are happening.
But that is pretty much the lesson we should take away from these young superstars being named captain so early in their career.
They are going to be great players whether they have a letter on the front of their jersey or not.
But they will only be viewed as a success from a leadership standpoint if their teams win, and they can’t do that without the necessary talent around them. Crosby and Toews aren’t multiple Stanley Cup champions if they get dealt the same hand Landeskog has been dealt in Colorado. If Landeskog goes to Chicago and plays for that powerhouse team, his reputation is probably completely different than it is now.
And that’s pretty much what we should expect from the McDavid-as-captain experience in Edmonton. If they put a good team around him, his leadership will be praised.
If they don’t … well … you know the drill.