When contemplating who the best player in the professional National Hockey League is this season, Edmonton Oilers centre and captain Connor McDavid practically leaps off of the ballot page as the No.1 ranked player across multiple NHL authorities – from hockey writers, analyst’s and hockey media broadcasters.
There’s nothing indiscriminate about McDavid’s high estimation among peers. Well before being drafted into the NHL, McDavid was singled out as the best elite prospects by NHL scouts. Hockey Canada granted him “Exceptional Player” status, allowing him to play major junior hockey one year earlier. He was that good. And following his international debut for Hockey Canada, it wasn’t long before the rest of the hockey world began fawning over him. Invariably, the phrase “generational talent” was brandished about when describing McDavid. In no uncertain terms, pinning the Canadian starlet as the kind of enviable talent that is highly sought-after, comes once in a decade, and a player that many franchise owners would gladly sell their own grandmother for just to get him on to their teams.
When the time finally came, the lucky draw fell to the Edmonton Oilers who drafted McDavid first overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. McDavid made his debut for the Oilers in October 2015 and it was obvious from his first shift with the pros that he was the real deal, poised to become something special. He wasn’t merely the product of hype and buzz or one of those prospects that had difficulty transcending the minor hockey leagues. He was a bona fide NHL player right out of the gates.
Although his rookie season did end abruptly due to injury. the year after McDavid finished at the top of the league’s charts as the season’s best performer in terms of points (100 points). Over the years, since first cracking the league’s standings, McDavid’s commitment to excellence hasn’t waned. From the 2016-17 season onwards, he’s consistently finished as one of the top two players on the offensive leaders board and three times during that span he finished as the No.1 ranked player, including this season.
Team and playoff success are notably absent from his resume, but his individual prowess is something to behold. Indeed, it’s already being suggestion that “generational talent” barely does him justice. If the pace with which McDavid’s first five seasons is any indication of what’s to come over the next decade, his eyepopping stats will propel him into an otherworldly stratosphere, wherein only the greatest of all time sojourn. One of which is Canadian legend and former Edmonton Oiler Wayne Gretzky.
Well before the season wrapped up in May, Connor McDavid’s stats were clearly on pace to scale the summit once again. So much so, that he’d already been crowned in the eyes of many NHL experts and fans as the most valuable player –an outlook that was mirrored equally by those in the business of sports and odds speculation, with McDavid deemed the player to beat in the MVP race. In fact, by mid-April, his odds had shortened all the way to -1100, which practically sapped any value on McDavid in the betting.
All told, the Canadian superstar finished a cut above the rest of the field with 105 points, making him the highest performer in the league and a good 21 points ahead of the second-best (most productive) player in the standings, Oilers teammate Leon Draisaitl (84 points). As well, McDavid was also the second highest scoring player of the 2020-21 NHL regular season with 33 goals, eight shy of the top scorer Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association has awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy to the league’s most valuable player for almost a hundred years. Connor McDavid has claimed the trophy once in his career: in 2017 after he capped off the regular season on 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) in 82 games. He has also won accolades such as the Art Ross Trophy (twice) thanks to finishing as the leading scorer in the league and the Ted Lindsay Award (twice) as the best player voted by other NHL players.
This year was arguably one of his best in terms of production, not to mention he was instrumental in helping lift his side into the playoffs for the second time in his career. Other than Matthews, who along with leading the league in scoring was also fifth on the list of offensive leaders this season (66 points), McDavid barely had any competition in the MVP race; that is, not as far as bookmakers went given the fact that he’d maintained his edge as the best-bet in this market throughout the season.
Whether those that will be casting the ballots for this year’s coveted accolades agree with this estimation is another matter entirely. This was an unusual season after all, unlike any other. It was adapted in accordance to a number of coronavirus pandemic mandates and edits that govern Canada and the United States respectively. The most significant of which is the existing travel restrictions between the two North American countries that became the mandate upon which the adjustment of the league’s divisional makeup was made with a view to limiting travel. Hence, the Edmonton Oilers were grouped into the “North Division!, an all-Canadian field that was comprised of seven teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens,, Calgary Flames. Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks.
As impressive as McDavid’s career trajectory is, he’s not without competition each year. This season those that have put their best skate forward, so to speak, in order to make their own case for the MVP award, include Florida Panthers centre Alexsander Barkov, Colorado Avalanche right winger Mikko Rantanen, Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews, Pittsburgh Penguins centre and captain Sidney Crosby and Edmonton Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl, all making strong arguments for their consideration too at varying intervals and different stages throughout the season, causing their odds to fluctuate on the NHL’s odds board accordingly.
The Hart Trophy winner will be announced in the coming weeks as the Stanley Cup Finals heat up. Colour the world shocked if Connor McDavid doesn’t get the nod because as things currently stand, he’s a shoe-in for the award.