Jay Woodcroft is in a unique position.
The Edmonton Oilers head coach has a front-row seat — and behind-the-scenes access — to the daily process of greatness going to work.
And even in a season where Connor McDavid looks poised to reach statistical heights not seen in nearly three decades, Woodcroft concedes there are times hockey’s best is taken for granted.
“Top of his field,” the Oilers’ second-year bench boss said of Edmonton’s captain. “You almost become numb to the great things that he does because he just does it every day. I would compare that to someone who lives at the foot of Mount Everest.
“You don’t appreciate the magnificence that you’re seeing.”
McDavid has certainly been magnificent this season.
The 26-year-old heads into the NHL all-star break with a league-leading 92 points in 50 games — 16 more than teammate Leon Draisaitl, a distant second in the overall scoring race.
McDavid is on pace to register 151 points in 2022-23, the most since Mario Lemieux’s 161 in 1995-96 and two better than Jaromir Jagr’s total from the same season.
He’s also on course for 67 goals — two short of Lemieux in the mid-1990s and two better than Alex Ovechkin’s 65 put up in 2007-08.
But despite McDavid’s name dotting the scoresheet almost every time the Newmarket, Ont., product hits the ice, there’s a sense his bar-raising performance isn’t getting the appropriate level of attention.
“If he was that dominant in the NFL, NBA or MLB, he’d be talked about way more,” New York Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow said. “I don’t think there’s another player in the four major sports leagues as dominant.”
Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk remembers cringing at the thought of having to play the Oilers nine times during the NHL’s division-only 2020-21 season shortened by COVID-19.
Twice in 82 games is enough.
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“To just see how far ahead he is of the pack, I think we need to talk about it more,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like everybody’s just saying, ‘Oh, that’s what we expect.'”
John Tavares said McDavid’s 41 goals — three off his career-high set last season — is what really pops off the page.
“A type of player the league hasn’t seen before,” said the Toronto Maple Leafs captain.
Tavares added that earlier in his career, McDavid was a pass-dominant centre capable of scoring because he saw so much of the puck, thought the game at a different level, and was always around the net.
“Now he’s really putting defenders and goalies on their heels with his release, his shot, his confidence, the type of goals he’s scoring,” Tavares said. “That clearly has taken a step for him. Really impressive how he continues to get better.”
Nashville Predators defenceman Roman Josi said McDavid quite simply isn’t getting the accolades he deserves.
“Because he’s Connor McDavid,” Josi said. “There’s really no words for what he’s doing. Like, it’s crazy. He should get a lot more credit for what he’s doing. But because he’s so good, I guess he doesn’t.”
Tavares said a lot of the hockey he watches is on TV late at night.
McDavid is often the star attraction.
“Every shift you’re waiting on him to do something,” Tavares said. “He has the puck that much. The skating is so dominant. He had 105 points in the shortened (56-game) COVID season — unbelievable to think someone could do that.
“He’s pushing that envelope of what that pace was.”
Woodcroft said that push has been accented by added layers to McDavid’s game — namely a willingness to shoot more and accepting a more vocal role in Edmonton’s locker room.
“He’s leading the NHL in goals for a reason,” Woodcroft said. “He’s doing it in different ways.”
Goodrow, who grew up in the suburbs north of Toronto and heard McDavid’s name uttered inside local rinks long before he was the NHL’s brightest light, said trying to contain the top pick at the 2015 draft is now next to impossible.
“So much faster than everyone else,” Goodrow said. “You can do your job, you can keep him to the outside. But if he has that step on you, if he has that chance … it’s tough.
“Fun to watch. Horrible to play against. But it’s great for our league.”
Brady Tkachuk will be joined by older brother and Florida Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk on the Atlantic Division team at Saturday’s NHL all-star game. They will become the 11th set of brothers in league history to play on the same all-star squad, and the first since Henrik and Daniel Sedin in 2012.
Friday’s all-star skills competition will have the classics like the fastest skater, hardest shot, shooting accuracy and breakaway challenge. There will also be some South Florida wrinkles, including a “splash shot” event that will see players attempt to hit targets and send opponents into a water-filled dunk tank.
–With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press