Connor McDavid's latest milestone shows he's measuring up to other NHL legends
‘There’s not anybody out there like him,’ says Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Edmonton Oilers rearguard Darnell Nurse paused for a split second when asked, from a defenceman's point of view, which current NHL players belong in the same class as Connor McDavid.
"In his class? I think he's unique," Nurse said, wording his response carefully so as not to offend the other big names in the frozen game. "The speed he plays with, I'm not sure I would put anyone in his class.
"I mean, there's great players all around the league. I think he's a guy who kind of holds his own spot."
Hockey fans, depending on the digits on their birth certificate, gush to their children and grandchildren about the magic of Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and in more recent times, Sidney Crosby, among others.
McDavid certainly holds his own spot in comparison to other NHL legends, past and present. The modern-day Oilers superstar reached the 500-point mark against Winnipeg last week, assisting on a goal by Jesse Puljujarvi.
It came in McDavid's 369th regular-season game. Only seven players — Wayne Gretzky (234), Mario Lemieux (287), Peter Stastny (322), Mike Bossy (349), Eric Lindros (352), Jari Kurri (356) and Bryan Trottier (322) — reached 500 points faster.
All seven of those players are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. And all seven played in a higher-scoring era than McDavid.
"It's hard to describe," Oilers left wing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of his linemate. "There's not anybody out there like him."
WATCH | Connor McDavid earns 500th career point:
Lessons from Crosby's greatness
In terms of synchronicity, McDavid hit the milestone in the exact number of games (369) it took Crosby to get there.
"He's done everything I want to do," McDavid said of Crosby. "He's a great guy to follow.
"He's done everything he has set his mind to. He wanted to get better on faceoffs, and he's done that. He wanted to score more goals, and he did that. There's lots of lessons from his game, because his game has changed over the years. He does whatever he can to be successful."
Crosby is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player in the post-season. He also served as team captain at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, leading Canada to back-to-back gold medals.
"He's done a couple of other things that I am trying to do, with all of his Cups and stuff," McDavid said. "That stuff is more important."
That stuff is suddenly looking more plausible with the Oilers (13-8) sitting second in the North Division, four points back of first-place Toronto.
Playing with a rotating cast with variable skill levels over the years, McDavid now centres a dynamite first line between Nugent-Hopkins and Puljujarvi. He has defenceman Tyson Barrie as a legitimate quarterback on the No. 1 power play unit. And in important moments, he often hops over the boards with Leon Draisaitl.
WATCH | McDavid powers Oilers past Flames with 5 points:
McDavid tops NHL in scoring
McDavid leads the NHL in scoring with 38 points. Draisaitl is right behind him in second with 33 points.
"Those are two guys who set an example every time they get on the ice, and they get out and work," Nurse said. "That's what makes playing against them in practice so hard, and that's what brings everyone's level of competition up. And that's how everyone gets better."
Nurse watched in disbelief last Saturday when McDavid stripped Calgary defenceman Noah Hanifin of the puck, danced down the wing on a two-on-one, and fired a shot through the pads of Jacob Markstrom.
McDavid didn't look at the Calgary netminder — not even a glance.
"I think that's what makes him so special, right?" Nurse said. "How many people in this league, or in the word, can do that or have been able to do that? I don't know of many.
"It just shows you how special of a player he is. It's moments like that you don't see very often, and I don't think you will see them very often."
Right wing Josh Archibald realizes he's witnessing something very special from his perch on the Edmonton bench.
"He's the best player in the world," Archibald said. "It's fun to watch him, let alone play with him.
"The guy can skate like the wind but, at the same time, his hands are as fast as his feet."