Contrasting Crosby, McDavid heading into Penguins – Oilers

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As you can see in the video above, NBCSN’s Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discussed the similarities and differences in the games of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers meet for the last time in 2017-18.

(Assuming, of course, that they won’t face off in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.)

This seems like a fun opportunity to delve even a little deeper. To start, check out this piece about McDavid’s potential to create new hockey fans with his blistering mix of skill and speed.

More than just speed with McDavid

Sometimes it almost seems dismissive to talk about McDavid’s speed. Here’s the thing, though: there are plenty of NHL players who can haul. Some struggle to finish despite having great wheels to varying degrees: Mason Raymond rarely made it work, and Penguins forward Carl Hagelin‘s seen peaks and valleys in his career in that regard.

With McDavid, it’s that he can do such high-skill things and make such smart decisions while baffling defensemen.

Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts for Sportsnet keyed in on this drill, and that story also discussed how Crosby has adapted his techniques during faceoffs (so it’s worth your click).

Evolving games

The fun thing about star athletes is that they rarely seem content with the skills they bring to the table early in their careers. John Tavares ranks among the stars known for revamping his game in big ways, and other sports apply, with Lebron James being a fantastic example.

To little surprise, both McDavid and Crosby show that hunger to not just be the best, but to keep pushing the bar higher.

Crosby’s work in the dot is an obvious example, yet the two centers share an interesting parallel in their leanings on the offensive end. To be specific, both might be pass-first by nature, yet each player is working on becoming more dangerous shooters.

When you look at Crosby’s early scoring stats, his assists dwarfed his goals. That was especially clear in his ridiculous sophomore season back in 2006-07: he scored 36 goals and 84 assists for 120 points in 79 games. Obviously, 36 goals is fantastic, and also a reminder of how much tougher it’s become to score even in the last decade. But it’s interesting to note, nonetheless, that his goals-assist ratio is closer to 1:1 as time has gone on.

So far, Crosby has five goals and six assists. Last year, he generated 44 goals and 45 assists. His actual shots on goal metrics remain reasonably similar from a volume perspective, so a lot of that improvement comes from Crosby working on his shooting skills.

McDavid may follow a similar path, particularly if he parallels Crosby in being surrounded by linemates he needs to carry (so Leon Draisaitl‘s presence could influence this situation). Last season, McDavid scored 30 goals and 70 assists for 100 points, generating the sort of clean numbers that seem to only show up in prognostications.

At the moment, McDavid’s numbers are amusingly similar to Crosby’s: also five goals and six assists. (McDavid’s played three fewer games than Crosby.)

Those five goals aren’t pure happenstance, either, as McDavid’s firing four shots on goal per contest. He wasn’t shy last season, but this represents a full SOG extra per contest. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues all season long.

Frankly, even if McDavid’s shot is good-but-not-great, coaches generally should be delighted when star players are assertive and decide to “call their own number.” (At least, they should in the often excessively deferential NHL.)

Struggling teams

Edmonton (3-6-1) obviously has the more pressing headaches, but Pittsburgh’s suffered some humbling losses despite an OK 7-5-1 record.

Considering their stats, the Oilers can only ask McDavid to try to maintain his level of play, and the same is reasonable with the Penguins and Crosby.

Ultimately, Crosby and McDavid need the Draisaitls, Evgeni Malkins, and other players to win the big team awards that number 87 keeps piling up and number 97 is chasing. Even so, it’s a lot of fun to compare stars like these, and should only get more thrilling as their careers progress.

If their histories are any indication, we haven’t seen all of their tricks just yet.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.