Connor McDavid's longtime skills coach Joe Quinn breaks down why the young Edmonton Oilers star has been so great to start the 2018-19 NHL season.
Two nights ago, Joe Quinn was returning home from a work trip when news arrived that his most famous client had made history … again. Upon watching the replay of Edmonton’s 5-4 overtime win in Winnipeg, though, Quinn emerged only mildly impressed. “Eh,” the Toronto-area skills coach says now, his shrug all but audible through the phone. “It just looked like Connor.”
That would be Connor McDavid, of course—sentient lightning bolt, soft-spoken franchise savior, best player on planet Earth, at least according to the last dude who held that title. They have been skating together since McDavid was an 11-year-old prodigy from Newmarket, Ontario, indoctrinated early into Quinn’s unique system of high-speed drills. A decade later, fresh off winning consecutive Art Ross trophies with another 100-point campaign, McDavid spent roughly 90 minutes each week with Quinn at rinks around greater Toronto last summer.
And so who better to evaluate McDavid’s torrid start, in which he became the first NHL player ever with points on his team’s first eight—and then nine—goals, than Quinn?
Just don’t expect gushing praise.
“Not surprised,” Quinn says flatly. “I’m seeing exactly what I saw in the summertime.”
If anything caught Quinn’s eye over the past several months, it was how aggressively McDavid tackled his offseason regimen. “He was in game shape in June,” Quinn says. “He was ready to roll early. He didn’t take a break.” Not that McDavid needed one: The Oilers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by mid-March, bottoming out less than a year after reaching the Western Conference final. Upon returning from the world championships in Denmark, where McDavid endured another disappointment with a fourth-place finish captaining Team Canada, he texted Quinn to hit the ice. It didn’t take long before Quinn noticed a change.
“He took his training to another level this year,” Quinn says. “He was already at a level by himself. But he was determined. I see Connor all the time, so it takes a lot for me to say ‘wow.’ But my son and I looked at each other and said, ‘Wow.’”
Join the club. Through four games entering Thursday night, McDavid had already recorded nine points: two assists vs. New Jersey in Sweden, an even-strength depantsing of Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara for his first goal, one goal and one helper at Madison Square Garden, and finally his four-point explosion against the Jets, in which McDavid blitzed past the previous season-opening streak held by Adam Oates (seven). “He’s on a mission,” Quinn says. “He’s been focused since June. Here it is in October and he’s been waiting for the puck to drop.”
At every turn, Quinn sees flickers of their sessions together. As owner and operator of Power Edge Pro, his methods put skaters through something of an obstacle course, teaching counter moves as they hop over mini-hurdles while nudging pucks through narrow windows. Take that goal in Boston, the only one Edmonton scored on Oct. 11. As McDavid bolted through the neutral zone, linemate Ty Rattie’s lead pass was deflected. In a flash, McDavid vacuumed the loose puck into his control and then swept it ahead, out of Chara’s long reach. Two strides later, he was cruising on a breakaway and beating goalie Jaroslav Halak with a wrister.
“Connor can move pucks to open lanes better than anybody else in the NHL,” Quinn says. “He rotates his body and carries his momentum without losing speed. It all starts with that reaction time. Feet are always moving, always attacking.”
And even when McDavid stands still, he scores. He notched just five power play goals over 82 games last season—and only three spanning the same full schedule in ‘16-17. Thus far, though, McDavid has already has struck three times on the man-advantage, punching back loose pucks on the weak side against both New York and Winnipeg, all while logging ridiculous ice time at even strength (19:28, tops in the league). “There’s no plateaus with him,” Quinn says. “You’ve just got to keep challenging him every year.”
As Canadian sports bars and talk shows continue debating him vs. Auston Matthews, the NHL's current leading scorer with 16 in seven games, McDavid is perfectly content tamping down his accomplishments. He was understandably terse when asked about the nine-point streak—which ended on defenseman Darnell Nurse's overtime winner—knowing that its existence reflected just as poorly on the rest of Edmonton’s lineup as it did reemphasize his transcendent talent: "You know what? It’s whatever,” McDavid said, via Sportsnet. “I’m not overly proud of it. I don’t think it’s a stat we should be proud of either. And we found a way to get a goal there at the end, so we don’t ever have to talk about it again.”
He also doused water on speculation that he had intentionally pretended to miss a shot against Winnipeg, instead baiting goalie Connor Hellebuyck onto the ice and leaving the puck for Rattie, who fired a top-shelf goal: “I tried shooting it,” McDavid said, according to TSN’s Jason Gregor. “It would have been sweet to say it was a pass, but it wasn’t.”
His longtime trainer, on the other hand, isn’t buying this explanation. “I think that’s just Connor being humble,” Quinn says. “I’ve trained this guy for years. He didn’t lose that puck. He gives the false information. He leaves the puck for Rattie, and he’s focused in case a rebound happens. His response time, his body speed, his foot speed … when you tie all those things together, it's amazing."
In other words, that just looked like Connor.