Marquee rivals: From Crosby and Ovechkin to McDavid and who?
No matter where the Edmonton Oilers travel, captain Connor McDavid is confronted by the same questions and comparisons to the opposing team's star.
In Buffalo, it's Jack Eichel, who was selected second in the 2015 draft behind McDavid. In Toronto, it's Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick last June.
In Pittsburgh, it's Sidney Crosby, the obvious measuring stick for the NHL's entire ''Next Generation'' crop of youngsters.
Intriguing as the discussions are, McDavid would prefer not to be involved.
''I think it can be a bit of a sideshow sometimes,'' the NHL's points leader said during a recent stop in Buffalo, where his budding rivalry with Eichel was broached. ''It seems like there's a new guy everywhere we go.''
The same applies to Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who enjoyed a firsthand glimpse of the league's top young stars while coaching the 23-and-under Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey in September.
''You'd like to capture that and reproduce it during the winter, but that's really, really hard to do with 82 games and 30 teams,'' McLellan said. ''But for us, I get asked those questions night after night after night.''
McLellan would rather place the focus on his entire squad and not just McDavid, who at 19 has enough weight on his shoulders.
''Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a former first overall pick, Leon Draisaitl: These players have to not take a backseat,'' McLellan said. ''They have to step up and lead as well. And Connor can't do it by himself every night.''
Team versus individual aside, the comparisons won't stop any time soon. And in years to come, the buzz will increase particularly once the torch of the NHL's marquee matchup, which used to be Wayne Gretzky versus Mario Lemieux, is passed on from Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin.
NBC broadcaster Pierre McGuire is intrigued by the many possibilities, all of which involve McDavid, whom he already regards as the league's second-best player behind Crosby.
Aside from Eichel and Matthews, McGuire points to the Winnipeg Jets' young tandem of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine as natural rivals to McDavid. Unlike Toronto and Buffalo, who play in the Eastern Conference and meet Edmonton just twice a season, the Jets play in the West.
More enticing for McGuire would be seeing McDavid taking on Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the playoffs.
''McDavid versus Toews would be off the charts,'' he said. ''Jonathan is such a proven champion and, obviously, Connor hasn't gotten there yet. But that's where these guys learn. They learn by being tested by the fires of playing against elite players.''
The Oilers, of course, would have to finally make the playoffs, something they've not done since 2006.
Though Gretzky and Lemieux were in the NHL at the same time from 1984-85 to 1998-99, they never faced one another in the postseason. Crosby and Ovechkin have gone head to head in the playoffs twice: in 2009 and last spring. Pittsburgh won both meetings and each time went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The prospect of seeing the Canadian-born McDavid facing off against the U.S.-born Eichel led McGuire to lobby the NHL to continue playing on the international stage.
''That's why we have to go to the Olympics, for this to flesh out,'' he said. ''That's what creates a lot of these gigantic rivalries.''
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter was in no mood to look beyond the existing marquee tandem of Crosby and Ovechkin.
''I don't think they're quite passing (the torch) yet,'' Sutter said with a smile.
In discussing rivalries, McGuire noted one of the NHL's fiercest involving teams is between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
''That is one of the nastiest pieces of business,'' he said. ''There's no two teams in the league that play the same way. It's big-bodied, mean-spirited, ornery, skillful hockey. It's really amazing.''
They've met just once in the playoffs, in 2014, with the Ducks clinching the series with a 2-1 overtime win in Game 7. The Kings have had the edge, going 12-3-1 in the past 16 regular-season meetings, though 11 have been decided by one goal.
The Columbus Blue Jackets set a franchise record by winning their 10th straight with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Kings on Tuesday. They also have points in 12 consecutive games, going 11-0-1, one short of matching a franchise-best 12-0-1 run to close the 2014-15 season.
The New York Islanders power play has converted a league-worst 12 of 88 chances and has yet to score more than twice in one game. It's not as if the power play is contributing to wins. The Isles are 4-4-4 when scoring with the man advantage after converting one of two chances in a 4-2 win over Boston on Tuesday.
Goals, Crosby (Pittsburgh), 22; Points, McDavid (Edmonton), 40; Game-winning goals, Artem Anisimov (Chicago) and Jeff Carter (Los Angeles), 6; Ice-time per game, Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg), 27:36; Wins, Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus), 19.
GAME OF THE WEEK
On Thursday, the Penguins travel to play the Blue Jackets in a Metropolitan Division showdown. Last year, Columbus coach John Tortorella took a shot at the Penguins in saying ''Pittsburgh whines enough for the whole league.''