The VICTORIOUS HOCKEY COMPANY’s Weekly Newsletter: 99 ON 87
Crazy week so I’m going to cut to the chase! Coach Littler sent me this article about what the “Great One” thinks about the “Next One” (Has that been coined yet? If not, I’m taking it!)
99 ON 87
Wayne Gretzky on how Connor McDavid has taken his game and Oilers ‘to another level’
By Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic
Even the greatest there ever was had that tone in his voice when asked about Connor McDavid’s season.
“Well, first of all, it’s pretty remarkable,” Wayne Gretzky said with a chuckle. “He’s gone to another level.”
The man who holds eight of the top 10 scoring seasons in NHL history should know what it feels like when someone is lapping the field.
Somehow, McDavid has gone from the best player in the game to that much better than everybody else in the game.
Apparently, there’s a penthouse above the penthouse.
“There’s a lot of factors, I think,” Gretzky told The Athletic on Monday.
“Just his maturity as a player. When you play those first two-to-three years, I don’t care how good you are, you still have in the back of your mind that you just want to show people that you belong in the league and you deserve to be there.
You battle each and every day in games and practice to better yourself, to show that you belong. We all go through that.
“But the maturity that he’s shown this year, he’s gone to an even higher level.
And I don’t just mean in points. His physical play is a lot higher than it’s been in the past.
His body language is that he doesn’t want to lose, and it’s infectious through the hockey club.
It’s very, very noticeable to the person watching the games.”
It is truly stunning what McDavid is doing.
I think for a lot of us in the media who have been around, we had come to accept that we just wouldn’t see this kind of scoring again. What McDavid is doing right now spread out over an 82-game season would be in the 149-point range, which we haven’t seen since Mario Lemieux had 161 and teammate Jaromir Jagr 148 in 1995-96, which was my first year covering the NHL.
This is offence from another era.
Imagine flirting with 100 points in 56 games in today’s game?
“Does he get to 100 points? I would say that he’s going to do that,” said Gretzky. “It’s a personal goal. But I don’t think he’s worried or concerned about that. I think his ultimate goal is to have as far a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs as possible. And ultimately, the Stanley Cup.
“You know, the 100-point thing is a personal endeavour, as an athlete you do your best especially when there’s a number there that people are wondering if you can reach,” added Gretzky, who had an NHL record 215 points in 1985-86.
“When you’re a level of a player that he is, you try to reach that mountain top. But I think more importantly it’s his contribution to the hockey club, he’s always been a hard worker and that’s infectious to the team.
His work ethic and passion to want to win has even gone to another level.”
People always ask Gretzky if he’s had any advice for McDavid since he entered the league. Not a whole lot other than one specific thing:
“I told him three years ago, ‘Let me tell you something my dad told me after every game: Shoot more,'” Gretzky said with a chuckle.
“It’s clear as day he’s shooting more now. Gosh, he’s playing so good.”
McDavid’s career high for shots on goal in a season was 274 in 2017-18 (3.34 shots per game), he’s averaging 3.60 shots per game so far this season, which over 82 games would have him around 300 shots.
McDavid is tied for fourth in the league with 180 shots, ahead of Alex Ovechkin and behind only Brady Tkachuk, Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon.
So No. 97 is indeed shooting more than before.
Gretzky, as alternate governor of the Oilers, obviously watches every Edmonton game. I’m pretty confident in saying he probably would anyway regardless of his role with the organization.
But it’s clear what No. 99 loves seeing the most right now is how McDavid’s season has had a way to lift everyone around him, too.
“When your captain has that attitude on the ice each and every night, it just bleeds through the hockey team,” said Gretzky. “He’s been, without question, just outstanding each and every night all year long. Listen, every guy has bad games, you’re paid to play against really some good players, so you’re going to have bad nights. That happens. But all in all, his consistency level and what he’s contributed to the hockey team to put his team on his back and take the team to another level, it’s just been outstanding.”
Gretzky pauses. I think he wants all of us to truly understand what we’re seeing right now.
“I think we’re seeing the young man really mature as a player and it’s kind of weird to say because he’s been such a great player over the past few years, but there’s no question he’s a better hockey player today than he was last year,” said Gretzky. “Consequently, the Oilers as a team are benefiting from his success. I would venture to believe that (head coach) Dave Tippett would tell you the same thing, as good as Connor has been, his work ethic has been the most important part of what’s been infectious throughout the hockey club and bringing a young hockey team to another level.
“What’s amazing about it is that he’s not cheating the game at all,” added Gretzky.
“He’s been good defensively. Dave Tippett would probably tell you he’s not the best defensive centre in the league, but he’s always in good position. He does things defensively that other guys can’t do because of his speed and his hockey sense. He’s just been an all-around tremendous player for the hockey club this year.”
With no evidence of slowing down. No dog days of the season here.
“He seems to be getting stronger as the year has gone on, which is truly remarkable because I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that’s more of a marked man than he is,” said Gretzky.
“So for him to keep battling through everything he’s battled through each and every night and be such a workhorse as he is, is a testament to his dedication to the game and to the team.”
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