Despite his impressive second NHL campaign where he registered a league-leading 100 points winning both the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Memorial Trophy, Canadian national team forward Connor McDavid has spent a portion of his off-season continuing to fine-tune his game.
The 20-year-old was 32nd in faceoff winning percentage (43.2 per cent) amongst NHL centres, which played in all 82 regular season games last year up slightly from the 41.2 per cent of his rookie season.
“It’s kind of hard to work on faceoffs over the summer, you’re just trying to get stronger, watch a little bit of film and all that,” said McDavid at a recent camp in Toronto. “Obviously trying to build my game in all areas, face-offs is definitely an area I struggle in and definitely trying to get better.”
McDavid admitted part of his improvement will come from watching veterans and learning how to cheat a little in the circle.
“I think it’s a little bit of that. I think it’s just getting stronger though,” he said. “You think of all the guys that are really good around the league, they do have good technique, but it’s just how strong they are. Getting older and more experience.”
It’s the experience of last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs, which has McDavid and his teammates excited heading into the 2017-18 season where they’re favourites to challenge for a Stanley Cup. In June the Oilers were pegged at 12-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup – only the Pittsburgh Penguins (9-1) had better odds.
“It’s exciting, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” said McDavid. “It’s up to us to figure out how good we’re going to be and if we’re willing to put in all the work. I think everyone’s been having a good summer and everyone’s anxious to get back.”
The Oilers snapped a decade-long playoff drought in Edmonton finishing second in the Pacific Division last season. After knocking off a veteran San Jose Sharks squad the Oilers fell in seven games of the second round to the Anaheim Ducks.
That taste of playoff action has the likes of defenceman Darnell Nurse excited for more.
“I think that’s the greatest motivator of all is having been through that experience,” said Nurse. “It was cut a little shorter than anyone ever wanted. I know we probably weren’t expected to get to the point we were at last year, (but) for us, (we) definitely weren’t satisfied just to get to that point. It’s fun to have the higher expectations, but at the same time, coming in with the same mindset, having fun and work hard everyday.”
With the lofty expectations, the Oilers know they’ll have a larger target on their backs this season as opponents play them harder each and every night.
“There’s definitely not going to be any surprises, especially at the beginning of the season,” said Nurse. “Everyone is going to be well prepared - that’s what comes with growth, when teams grow. For us, we’ve got to continue to grow. I don’t think anyone was satisfied with just getting to the playoffs last year and getting one round win. I think everyone is highly motivated for this year and getting better.”
McDavid finished the 2016/17 season with 30 goals and 70 assists in 82 regular season games. The Oilers captain added five goals and four assists in 13 playoff games.
During the summer the Oilers rewarded McDavid, who won gold with Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, with a new eight-year, $100 million contract extension.
In addition to the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer and the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP, McDavid also took home the Ted Lindsay Award – awarded to the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted on by the players.
The accolades and expectations don’t faze McDavid as he embarks on his third NHL season.
“It doesn’t really change much,” he said. “For us, everyone has always had the same mindset and last year we were able to find a little success, but it shouldn’t change anything.
“Every year is a new year and you look at the turn over between every year and teams that made the playoffs last year aren’t a guarantee to make the playoffs next year. It’s always turning over and you’ve got to re-establish yourself early.”