Connor McDavid is the greatest NHL prospect since Sidney Crosby. He’s the next one. He’s a superstar in the making. He does everything the right way.
Yadda, yadda, yadda …
We get it. Connor McDavid is really good. This has been drilled into hockey people’s collective consciousness since McDavid became a known quantity. It’s almost a Pavlovian response. Mention his name and the word ‘awesome’ must come next.
But there has to be a flaw in his game. Hockey is a game of mistakes, and we’re all human. Translation: nobody’s perfect.
“I don’t know … he’s 17 going on 18?” said Dan Marr, the head of the NHL’s central scouting bureau when asked about McDavid’s flaws. “He’s not physically mature yet, so he will continue to get physically stronger.”
This is the common refrain on the 6-foot-1, 187-pound Erie Otters pivot who has 38 points in 13 games this season. He just simply has to get bigger and stronger. But there simply must be more than just size and strength, right? Is there something off defensively? Does he have bad acne? Is it worth even asking?
“If you’re going to spend time nitpicking like that with a guy who’s going to score 120 points per year, I think you’re probably wasting your time,” said Chris Edwards of central scouting. “I don’t think there’s anything that you’re going to want him to do differently if you get him to the next level. He plays a solid game and if he’s going to score that many points, you shouldn’t be nitpicking things he’s not going to do well.
Is there a problem with his defense? Most young players focus mostly on offense, and forsake the other end of the ice.
"Connor is a good defensive player who we trust in a one-goal game with one minute left,” Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said.
There is one slight ‘issue’ that Knoblauch pointed out. But it’s hard to term this as a flaw. It just shows that McDavid’s extreme attacking aggressiveness can sometimes be more a negative than a positive.
“He has incredible speed and so much determination to get to the net. Often players don’t like to drive the net that hard because he might get hit. Connor, I’ve never seen anybody take the puck to the net as hard as he does. I think he’s finding out teams are collapsing so much to take away him driving the net that he was reluctant to shoot from the outside,” Knoblauch said. “You can’t get to the greasy areas sometimes where a defender has played him so well where he can’t get behind him, and that’s where we want him to use a defenseman as a screen and just delay.”
Scouts don’t often miss on players of McDavid’s level. They correctly predicted that Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and even Eric Lindros (three of the Next Ones) would all turn into NHL superstars.
But McDavid hasn’t played an NHL game yet. And while it’s now easy to find issues in Crosby’s game (he’s not strong enough on the walls etc.) or Ovechkin’s (he gets lost in the defensive zone) they’re not nearly as easily apparent when players are aged 17 and 18. They all look great, which hence makes a scout’s job highly difficult. They need to figure out how a player will look in 5-10 years and project out. It’s a tough task.
“He’s going to be exposed to a different brand of hockey when he gets to the NHL, just like he did with the World Juniors, and he has shown he can adapt at all those levels,” Marr said. “The only part of his game that has yet to come is the part that experience and the physical development will fill in.
There are some draft swings and misses. Alexandre Daigle was considered a super prospect – taken No. 1 overall by Ottawa in the stacked 1993 draft. Brian Lawton went No. 1 in 1983.
Both played in the NHL, but didn’t amount to much more than being known as cautionary tale draft busts.
“Daigle was one of the best players I had seen play junior hockey. but his work ethic certainly was not there,” Edwards said. “He was not consistent, whereas with Connor, that’s nowhere near an issue.”