For Oilers’ Connor McDavid, another Art Ross Trophy has never looked more realistic

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EDMONTON — Connor McDavid can claim he doesn’t care about personal stats and individual accolades all he wants. His play indicates something else entirely.
McDavid recorded three points in a decisive 6-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks to briefly move into top spot in the NHL scoring race for the first time all season before all of Saturday’s action was completed.
The two goals and one assist pushed him to 125 points and ahead of Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon until their games were through.
There’s a new League leader in points! Connor McDavid’s (@cmcdavid97) third point of the game gives him 125 on the season! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/MUk8qbTlf1 — NHL (@NHL) March 30, 2024
Even though Kucherov and MacKinnon responded with multipoint efforts to leap back over McDavid, a sixth Art Ross Trophy in his ninth NHL season has never looked more realistic for the Edmonton Oilers captain.
“It’s nice, I guess. It’s a position I’ve been in many times before,” McDavid said. “We’re playing for things bigger than that.
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“We’re playing to make sure our game is in order. We’re still playing for positioning. There’s lots of hockey left. You never know what can happen down the stretch.”
McDavid being in this position is truly something. That might sound odd considering the player being discussed here, but it’s true.
McDavid was tied for 107th in the scoring race when Kris Knoblauch replaced Jay Woodcroft behind the bench on the morning of Nov. 12 after recording just 10 points through his first 11 games. The Oilers had played 13 contests — winning just three times — but McDavid was sidelined for two of them with an injury.
He was 15 points behind Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson for the top spot and 13 back of second-place Kucherov. McDavid has been up to his old tricks since then, acting as the biggest cog in a 42-14-3 machine since the coaching change. That’s good for an NHL-best .737 points percentage during that span, well ahead of No. 2 Carolina (.692).
“He was — and we all were — struggling early on. So, to see him on top right now is pretty awesome,” Mattias Ekholm said. “You guys have seen his games in the last three months. It’s been unbelievable how he’s been carrying us.
“He’s the best player in the world. There is no shock to my mind whatsoever that he’s there.”
McDavid has 115 points over his last 59 games with Knoblauch behind the bench. He’s reached that astounding level of production in a unique way.
After winning his first Rocket Richard Trophy last season, goals have been much harder to come by for McDavid — at least before Saturday. McDavid scored 64 times in 2022-23 but still hasn’t even hit 30 this season.
He’s up to 29 goals thanks to the 54th multigoal game of his career.
Instead of beating goaltenders at a prolific rate, McDavid has been making their lives miserable in other ways. Think back to February, when he was named second star of the month with two goals and 25 assists in 12 games. Included in that run was a 10-game goalless drought where he had 23 helpers.
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McDavid’s already blown past his league-leading assist total of 89 from last season. His third-period helper on linemate Zach Hyman’s 52nd goal left him with 96 assists. He’s four shy of becoming the fourth player in NHL history to hit the century mark in that category — and the first since Wayne Gretzky in 1990-91.
“I feel like he’s always a passer first,” Ekholm said. “But it’s nice to see him scoring some goals, too. He’s got opportunities to shoot it even more, but he’s looking for his teammates.”
His output Saturday allowed him to surpass his second-highest-scoring season of his career, 123 points from the 2021-22 campaign. The 153 points from last season is unattainable with just 10 games remaining, but that McDavid’s even in the ballpark is an outstanding accomplishment considering his and the Oilers’ pre-Knoblauch start.
“I feel like he’s been the same guy throughout,” Ekholm said. “Every season goes up and down. We had a real down at the start. I thought he carried himself as he does — the way we are right now — where we’re playing well and everything’s clicking.
“That’s one of the strengths as a leader in this room.”
Former Duck Adam Henrique grew to loathe playing the Oilers over the last few years.
The Oilers have made a habit of beating the Ducks for fun, now winning 10 of the last 11 games since the NHL returned to a full schedule after the 2021 COVID-19 season. The Oilers have outscored the Ducks 63-24 during that span.
“It was never any fun coming here,” Henrique said.
McDavid was a big reason why life’s been so miserable for the Ducks. McDavid has eight goals and 27 points in those 11 contests.
“To be here and see it on a daily basis, it’s impressive,” Henrique said.
McDavid got things going in style against the Ducks. His first goal was a thing of beauty.
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He stripped former Oiler William Lagesson at the Edmonton blue line and was off to the races. Within a few strides, he was one-on-one with Ducks centre Benoit-Olivier Groulx inside the Anaheim zone. McDavid sidestepped Groulx as if he were nothing more than a pylon, sending him spinning to the ice, before easily flipping a shot over goaltender John Gibson.
“You know what’s going on out there,” McDavid said. “You know who you’re going up against most times. I definitely knew that that was a forward and it might be a little bit of an uncomfortable situation for him. I just tried to take him on.”
He added a power-play goal in the second period by depositing a pass from Leon Draisaitl, and then had the primary assist on Hyman’s goal in the third.
This game seemed like it was over from the moment Henrique scored off his own rebound 3:47 in. McDavid just drove home the point.
It was the ideal performance for him and the team following an emotional victory Thursday against a big rival, the Los Angeles Kings.
“A win like that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t follow it up,” McDavid said. “Our group was ready to go right from the jump and did what we had to do.”
That’s just it.
Winning is the only thing McDavid is truly concerned about. The thing is, racking up points typically goes a long way toward the Oilers doing that.
So, as the Oilers strive for more important things like ramping up for the playoffs and trying to secure the best possible seed in them, McDavid’s offence will help them achieve their desired goals.
Don’t count on him slowing down one bit. Wouldn’t you know it, the Oilers’ last game of the season is April 18 in Denver against MacKinnon and the Avalanche.
You can bet the scoring race will go right down to the wire — whether McDavid is truly concerned about it or not — when it seemed like he might not even be in the mix a few months ago.
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“Never count Connor out or never think that he can’t do something,” Knoblauch said. “He made it very difficult on himself to get to where he is on the scoring (list) right now.
“I was thinking about it on the bench. I was amazed when I was watching him in Erie doing the things he was doing — and that was junior hockey. He’s doing the same things in the National Hockey League. It’s amazing.”
(Photo: Lawrence Scott / Getty Images)

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