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This article was published 18/5/2021 (248 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He's been called The Super Freak by members of the Winnipeg Jets for how much damage he's inflicted on them this season. It's just one name to describe Connor McDavid and the dominance he's shown throughout the 2021 NHL campaign.
Indeed, whether it's the Jets or any of the other five teams that have had to face him as many as 10 times this season while playing in the North Division, there's been a running dialogue of ways to encapsulate just what McDavid has achieved this year. Even for a player who was dubbed a generational talent before the Edmonton Oilers selected him first overall in 2015, McDavid has somehow managed to take his game to even greater heights with the attention around him magnified this season.
"I think one of the differences is he plays in Canada. There is more focus on it, there is more excitement about it, there is probably a different kind of appreciation for it," Jets head coach Paul Maurice, the originator of Super Freak, said following Tuesday's practice.
"His speed, and his hand speed, is different than what we’ve seen from maybe anybody else. Then we start comparing different kinds of players to who’s the greatest. How do we do that? We do it with points. That’s the first thing — he scores more goals, or he gets more assists than everybody else so he’s that good. I always think you’re better off waiting for another 15 years when it’s over and deciding the impact he’s had on the game is. He’s clearly a brilliant player."
If only the Jets had the superpower to control time. Because they don't, they will begin the tough task of trying to stop McDavid and the Oilers when Game 1 of their best-of-seven opening-round series gets underway Wednesday night at Rogers Place.
McDavid truly has been unique in his success this season. He was the only player, by a longshot, to hit the 100-point mark, in a truncated season owing to COVID-19. He finished the year with 105 points (33G, 72A) in 56 games — a dazzling average of 1.88 points per match. The next closest player was linemate Leon Draisaitl, who chipped in 84 points, with Boston's Brad Marchand coming in third with 69 points.
McDavid has been so good this season that he's often overshadowed the play of Draisaitl, who is not only on a line with McDavid but is also someone many view to be in the conversation as a top-5 player in the NHL. In fact, Maurice even poked fun at reporters for how much attention they were giving McDavid, and how little focus was on Draisaitl.
"You guys know that Draisaitl guy’s not bad, eh? I think that’s how you pronounce his last name, I haven’t really heard it," Maurice quipped. "'Cause he’s not bad."
As good as Draisaitl has been this year, McDavid has been particularly dominating against the Jets. The 24-year-old had 22 points in nine games versus Winnipeg, accumulating seven goals and 15 assists.
He has scored at least two points in every game against the Jets, with four of those games ending with at least a three-point night. In their most recent meetings, which were back-to-back games at Bell MTS Place in late April, McDavid had a combined seven points, including three goals and one assist in a convincing 6-1 Oilers win.
Maurice won't have the luxury of last change through the first two games on the road, but whenever possible he will task Adam Lowry with shutting down the McDavid line. With Nikolaj Ehlers doubtful for Wednesday, it's likely Andrew Copp gets bumped to the Lowry line, along with fellow winger Mason Appleton.
"I mean, he had 105 points, so if I could shut him down and he has zero in the game, I think that really, really bodes well for our chances. But, no, it's one of those things where you're not just going out there with the sole mindset of flipping pucks out — you kind of want to tilt the ice as well. You want to frustrate them, you want to force them to bend, you want to create some chances. If you can chip in offensively, that's huge," Lowry said.
"The chances of him getting on the board in the game are pretty high, the way he and Leon have played this year. It's about just trying to advance the puck, making smart plays. If you're kind of staying (true to your game), you're going to force some turnovers, you're going to see some frustration and that's when you'd want to take advantage of that and when you get your opportunity you don’t want to miss it."
There's a growing theory that McDavid needs to be physically engaged more than he has this season. But hitting McDavid is easier said than done, and something teams haven't ignored as much as they've tried to figure out exactly how to do just that.
Neal Pionk is one of the Jets smartest and hardest hitters.
"Yeah, it's really difficult. Because he's arguably the best player in the world, if not THE best player in the world, so you have to respect that. But at the same time, you don't want to give him too much time and space," Pionk said. "You certainly can't run around at him, because he'll make you look like an idiot and he'll score and get a lot of chances along with that."
The Jets have talked at length this year about limiting McDavid, and it's been a recurring theme through six straight losses to the Oilers. But sometimes overthinking things, Jets forward Mathieu Perreault said, can lead to doing too much. Perhaps it's about keeping it simple.
"Everybody's got to be aware when he's out there, and we will be doing that. So, this is kind of the one way I can see we can slow him down," Perreault said. "Every time he gets on the ice someone gets in his way. And no one's cheating offensively when he's on the ice."
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After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.