In previous blogs of mine, I’ve mentioned in passing my love for the New York Rangers. I bleed blue, and anyone who follows me on twitter knows that all too well. Much to the dismay of myself and the rest of Rangerstown, their run at a playoff spot was cut short in embarrassing fashion after the last 3 outings. The death blow started with being shutout back to back by the intrastate rival Islanders, followed by a 6-3 loss on home ice to the Capitals, capped off by an empty net goal from none other than public enemy number one, Tom Wilson. The season ended as painfully as possible, because why not? It is the Rangers after all. The 3 remaining games will have no real meaning outside of development for the young blue shirts, and the playoffs will go on without them.
Therefore, I hereby declare myself an official interim Oilers fan. For the rest of the 2021 season and the ensuing post-season, I will be covering my interim team until they either lift the cup or join the Rangers on the links, in which case I’ll cut my losses and enjoy the remainder of the playoffs with no horse in the race. Just like I have been doing since 2018. The pain I’ve endured as a Ranger fan this year could be partially mitigated by a cup finals appearance from the Edmonton Oilers, led by the best player in the world in Connor McDavid. While I wholeheartedly believe a hockey town like Edmonton, Alberta deserves to enjoy a deep run from their squad, I’m much more concerned with McJesus and his lack of playoff success beyond one second round appearance in 2017. The league needs its best player to play on it’s biggest stage, and there is no bigger stage than the Stanley Cup Finals.
Anybody who’s played or watched the game for an extended period of time knows that no single player should ever be bigger than the team, but McDavid seems to have unintentionally challenged that philosophy since joining the Oilers. Entering the NHL for the 2015-2016 season at 19 years old, he had 48 points in a 45 game rookie campaign cut short by injury. There was no sophomore slump either. Only improvement, as he went on to score 30 goals and 100 points as a 20 year old. I’m 20 and spent a good part of my day shoveling dog shit in my backyard. The following year, he improved yet again, lighting the lamp 41 times and totaling 108 points. His points per game has increased every year he’s been in the league, culminating with where we are today, as he closes in on 100 points once again, but this time in a pandemic shortened 56 game season. His scoring pace this season has been reminiscent of Mario Lemieux in the early 90s. I wasn’t even a twinkle in my old man’s eye the last time guys were scoring this much. McDavid is a throwback in that sense, but he is head and shoulders above the players of that era. These days, player development is better, defensemen are smarter, and goaltenders actually tend goal, yet he’s sniffing records that seemed unbreakable just a few years ago.
He needs to win a Stanley Cup because his detractors will always measure his success alongside his team’s. That’s not totally unfair either, before McDavid took the throne I considered Crosby the best player in the world because he had 3 Stanley Cups and led the way to each one. It’s really only a matter of time until McDavid and the Oilers reach the top of the mountain. Prior to this year he had no real support on his team outside of fellow top five player in the world Leon Draisaitl, but this year the blue line is coming together, some depth scoring threats are emerging, and Mike Smith is playing like an ageless wonder. I’d be remiss if I didn’t go more in depth on just how amazing Draisaitl has been this year, and how he’s stealthily becoming one of the most dominant forces in the National.
Coming off a season in 2020 that saw him pace the league in scoring and collect his first Hart trophy and Ted Lindsay award, Draisaitl has continued to impress while the spotlight has shifted to McDavid this year. Connor has led the scoring race practically since the puck dropped in January and he’s had Leon in tow the whole time. The duo have built a comfortable cushion between them and 3rd place on the scoreboard, which has been a revolving door of some of the games other biggest names, like Marner, Matthews, and MacKinnon. While he won’t hit 100 points again this year like McDavid might, his teammate has been his only competition this year when it comes to putting up points, and he’s already had a 4 point game again to open this last month of the season.
What makes this year different in Edmonton is the level of production outside of the leagues most dominant duo. Jumping off the page is Tyson Barrie’s 42 points and Darnell Nurse’s 15 goals, two solid defensemen that have found a way to regularly contribute offensively. The Oilers also sport a more balanced depth attack than last season, boasting 5 players (not counting McDavid/Draisaitl) who are on pace for 40 points or better in a regular 82 game season. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues his consistent production, maintaining his average career pace of around .75 points per game. Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are finally turning out to be regular offensive contributors. They also have Dominik Kahun and Zack Kassian who have been streaky scorers throughout their careers and could make a big difference come playoff time, especially Kassian with his level of grit. Not to mention Mike Smith has been damn near lights out, carrying a stat line of a 2.3 GAA and .924 sv% with 3 shutouts to this point in the year. Mikko Koskinen has been pretty solid in relief as well.
Finally, to touch on the latest installment of McJesus dominance. It just wrapped up as I’m starting this paragraph, and it was a 5-3 playoff clinching win on a Monday night in Vancouver which saw Connor record 4 points, 2 of them goals and one of them the empty net insurance marker. With that, he’s eclipsed 90 points, 30 goals, and he’s another step closer to being the only player (by far) to reach 100 points in this abbreviated season. Whether or not he does so doesn’t matter to him, he’s made that clear to the media. What matters to McDavid this year is winning, and he’s never had a better chance to do just that than he does this year.