EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Troy Brouwer has played in Chicago, Washington and St. Louis, so he knows a thing or two about superstars.
He has played alongside Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa with the Blackhawks, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom with the Capitals and Vladimir Tarasenko with the Blues.
So the Calgary Flames veteran seemed like the perfect person to assess the talent level of Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.
“At this point, I think he might be the best player in the NHL,” Brouwer said. “The dynamic of his game, he seems to create something every shift. A lot of the guys have speed like he does, but they can’t stickhandle quite the same at top speed like he can.
“For how much you need to key on him, for how much you talk about him before going into a game, he’s probably the most special player in the league.”
McDavid, whom the slumping Wild will be forced to contend with Sunday night, is 19.
In a league that features stars like Kane and Toews, Ovi and Sidney Crosby, McDavid may already be the best of the best and atop a mountain of young stars, including Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel, who are taking the league by storm.
The Oilers have gotten more than their fair share (four) of first overall picks the past seven years. But as Columbus Blue Jackets President John Davidson said, the Oilers “should be putting their hands on the Bible three times a day” for how lucky they were to win the lottery in 2015.
“He’s [Mark] Messier,” St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “One step and he’s gone. There’s lot of players that skate fast, but there’s very few that skate fast and are able to make plays at top speed. That’s what Mess did.
“[McDavid’s] got five tools, but at top speed, he doesn’t have to pause and think and stop and reconnect his brain. There’s not many players where the mind is up to the legs. There’s a lot of legs in this league, but very few players that have the mind to go with those legs.”
After 48 points in 45 games during a rookie season that was shortened by a broken collarbone, there has been no sophomore slump for McDavid.
Before Saturday’s game vs. Anaheim, McDavid was leading the NHL with 34 points in 25 games and on a seven-game point streak with six goals and 15 points in that stretch.
McDavid is already talked about in the same breath as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe and Crosby. The speed is what really sets him apart.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a set of hands that come with that speed, and that’s a different animal,” Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “Matching that speed is impossible. It’s completely impossible if you’re behind him. And you’ve got no chance if you’re beside him.”
McDavid said that as a kid “I was always working on my hands. I’m very comfortable with the puck, for sure. But skating? That’s the stuff that comes naturally for some.”
He seems to get a breakaway or two a game.
“He’s got a step on everybody no matter where he is on the ice,” Brouwer said. “For that reason, you have to be tentative with him. That respect that his speed commands, it makes him even more dangerous because you can’t play him up close. You’ve got to 2-on-1 him, but then he’s good enough to make plays through you to other people that are open.”
In 70 career games, McDavid is averaging 1.17 points per game. Among active players, Crosby’s at 1.33 and Evgeni Malkin’s at 1.17.
The question is where does McDavid take his game and how far can he guide the Oilers. Gretzky believes McDavid can go down with the best of the best and lead Edmonton to multiple Stanley Cups.
“You don’t know what the limit is for a guy like that,” Flames goalie Brian Elliott said. “He’s a guy that you have to be aware of any time he’s on the ice. Not many guys have that kind of status right away.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 8:30 p.m. at Edmonton (FSN). Wednesday: 6:30 p.m. at Toronto (FSN). Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Edmonton (FSN).
Player to watch: James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs Power forward who lives in Orono during the offseason (and reportedly could be traded) has been skating with young, talented Mitchell Marner.
“I don’t know if any of the U.S. World Cup guys would be invited back anyway.” — Wild left winger Zach Parise joking about whether NHL players should participate in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
• No matter what the Florida Panthers do to make strides, they always manage to be the most unstable franchise in the NHL. Since their 1993 inception, they’ve had multiple ownership changes, 14 coaches and 10 general managers — well, now 11 and 12 if you include their newbie co-GMs after Gerard Gallant (above) was fired as coach and GM Tom Rowe became interim coach last week.
Only the Panthers can win the Atlantic Division last season with 103 points and then kick “upstairs” their GM, Dale Tallon, fire their trainers and most of their scouting staff and now finally their coach when they were 11-10-1.
It’s been a never-ending carousel with this franchise for two decades and the reason it hasn’t won a playoff round in 20 years.
• Trying to end Dougie Hamilton trade rumors, Calgary Flames President Brian Burke and GM Brad Treliving went on the offensive by saying there’s no chance they’re trading the defenseman.
“He’s 6-5. He weighs 237 pounds. He’s a right shot. He skates like a deer. Yeah, let’s move him,” Burke said, sarcastically, to TSN’s Leafs Lunch.
Burke then accused a team of making an “insulting” offer for Hamilton.
“We told the team, ‘Next time you have an idea that stupid just save the quarter, don’t go to the pay phone,’ ” Burke said. “That team started telling teams, ‘Yeah, we made an offer on Hamilton.’ Now it’s a rumor, it’s got legs, right?
“We haven’t offered him to anyone. We don’t intend to move him.”