The NHL’s had some wonderful superstars over the years, and it’s not necessarily time for Sidney Crosby to totally pass the torch to Connor McDavid just yet. It could be some time until there is a consensus in that “best in the world” debate.
McDavid’s sensational performance in the Edmonton Oilers’ season-opener (replete with a historic hat trick) brought a different thought to mind: McDavid’s combination of speed and skill open the door for him to be a truly mainstream star.
When people rave about Crosby, there’s talk of his deceptive shot and brilliant passing.
Still, much of the delight in watching number 87 is in the subtle ways he dominates: the way he dominates puck possession and imposes his will on opponents. His edgework stands out. Crosby is a purveyor of the lost art of the backhander.
Remember this borderline abusive footage of Crosby vs. Brad Marchand?
That’s all part of a package that makes Crosby arguably the best in the world, even after McDavid ran away with the Hart Trophy and Art Ross in 2016-17.
Still, if appreciating the finer points of Crosby’s game can parallel critiquing high-brow art, McDavid’s otherworldly skills feel like a video game cheat code or Michael Bay movie come to hockey life.
There’s little need for explanation in showing off McDavid’s ridiculous speed (and resounding ability to finish, considering that speed) in his second goal from last night. You can just send your vaguely hockey-curious friends this highlight and watch a few jaws drop.
That goal feels a bit like Tracy McGrady dunking on a helpless Shawn Bradley, except in came against a very capable Calgary Flames defenseman in T.J. Brodie.
Coaches are experts in killing offense – and fun – in the NHL, clogging up space for star players. Simply put, in 2017, Connor McDavid should not be able to do this. And the beauty is that a typical hockey fan can see in the highlights, and most likely, would quickly pick up on those moments where McDavid might get off to the races again.
(Really, not in this decade. Just take a look at the scoring title winners’ totals.)
In the long run, is McDavid really better at 20 than Crosby is right now, with his fully seasoned, well-rounded game? That’s a debate that comes down to taste and preferences as much as trophies and fancy stats.
The point is: McDavid has a unique ability to dominate in simple ways that just about any even remotely hockey-curious person can appreciate. Every opportunity feels like a mini-event, arguably even more than vintage Alex Ovechkin.
Now, yes, there are some barriers here. McDavid might not be featured in the most ideal market for everyone to see him; beyond the larger ice surface, people were lamenting number 97 missing a chance to take over the 2018 Winter Olympics in part because it could have served as a coronation.
Still, this can be remedied.
McDavid and the Oilers could draw the kind of opponent that would bring his superhero skills to more eyeballs. Imagine the Chicago Blackhawks huffing and puffing trying to keep up with McDavid, as just one prime example.
Is McDavid the best player in the NHL already?
Who knows; let’s just make sure we watch him as much as possible to try to find out.