First, time for a little shameless self-promotion here. In our annual Pool Guide, we sharp chaps here at The Hockey News projected Connor McDavid to win the Art Ross Trophy this season with 120 points, with Edmonton Oilers teammate Leon Draisaitl finishing second with 112. At the moment, we’re feeling pretty good about the possibility of those coming to fruition.
We should probably also tell you that we put that book together in the summer when nobody had any idea how many games would be played in the 2020-21 season. We were thinking, oh, somewhere in the range of 82. Actually, we had both McDavid and Draisaitl missing four games, so it was based on a 78-game season for each player.
So what do we have now? Well, based on their production through the first 11 games of the season, McDavid is on pace for 41 goals and 112 points and, after a six-assist performance Sunday night against the Ottawa Senators, Draisaitl is on pace for 31 goals and 107 points. In 56 games. On one hand, it’s crazy to think that even those two players could post such gaudy totals in such a truncated season. On the other hand, even though the sample size is only 11 games, has anyone come to the realization that the Oilers are actually almost one-quarter of the way through the season?
“They’re both great players and I wouldn’t put it past them,” Oilers coach Dave Tippet said after watching his team outscore the Senators 8-5 Sunday night. “But that being said, these games are going to tighten up as we go here.”
But are they really, Dave? Like, really? Because there’s not a single team in the Scotia North Division™, including and especially the Oilers, that has displayed much of an interest in basing its game on strong defensive play or in locking things down. And don’t even get us started on the goaltending. Gadzooks, it’s spotty.
So what we have here is a confluence of a couple of things. At 24 and 25 years old respectively, McDavid and Draisaitl are arguably at the height of their powers as NHL players. One is the best player in the world, the other the reigning Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner. They play together on what was the best power play in the NHL last season, one that has the potential to absolutely shred teams. They have more than twice as many points as the next highest scorer on the Oilers, so they’re driven to score because they know that the more they score, the more likely the Oilers are to win games. McDavid is otherworldly at almost everything and Draisaitl is developing into the best set-up man in the NHL.
“We’re looking to help the team offensively,” Draisaitl said of himself and McDavid. “We’re looking to help the team any way we can.” Translated into layman’s terms, Draisaitl basically said, “Connor and I know that, pretty much on a nightly basis, we have to score this team out of its deficiencies defending and its sub-par goaltending.”
But the Oilers are hardly alone in the North Division on that front. Of the No. 1 goalies in the league, Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks – we’re giving the nod to him based on his recent play that saw him garner first-star-of-the-week honors – and Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames are the only two who have played up to an acceptable standard this season. Only the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs are among the top 10 teams in shots against this season, while four of the North Division teams are in the bottom 10.
And save a reversal in fortunes for either, say, Carey Price or Fredrik Andersen, both of whom currently have save percentages below .900, (and defending Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck, sho sits a .910) does anyone really see much changing in this division? Trades to bring in anyone from outside the division this season will be problematic to say the least. Could you not see the North Division basically becoming one big score-fest this season? Teams will be under a lot of pressure to score their way out of trouble and the more they play that way, the more they’ll feel comfortable doing so. Perhaps they’ll just say, “To heck with it. Let’s just play to our identity and if we can win the division, we’ll worry about scoring our way through the semifinal and Stanley Cup final.”
And that, combined with their abundance of talents, gives both McDavid and Draisaitl a chance to post 82-game-like totals in a 56 game season. And that's crazy.