Tuesday night in Toronto featured a matchup between the last two 1st-overall draft picks, as Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (7-2-0) traveled to the Air Canada Centre to take on this year’s top pick, Auston Matthews, and the Toronto Maple Leafs (2-4-3). Coming into the game, McDavid, the 19-year-old captain of the Oilers, is off to a brilliant start, currently tied for the league lead with 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 9 games. Arizona native Matthews found the spotlight immediately, scoring a NHL record 4 goals in his debut, had 6 goals and 4 assists in his first 9 games in the league. McDavid and Matthews, teammates for the 23-and-under North American team during this summer’s World Cup of Hockey, have apparently not stayed in contact since joining their NHL teams, choosing to instead focus on the many obstacles each is facing between now and a playoff berth.
In his first game professional game in Toronto, Ontario native McDavid didn’t exactly have the homecoming he would have dreamed of (a broken clavicle that kept him out 3 months last season caused him to miss Edmonton’s visit last season), as he was held pointless in the game and was beaten by Nazem Kadri on the game winning goal early in overtime. McDavid led all forwards with almost twenty-three minutes of ice time, but was shut down by Kadri right from the start. Matthews played just short of twenty minutes for the Leafs, and had 6 shots, and several high quality scoring chances in the game, but was unable to beat Oilers’ goalie Cam Talbot.
Many people are tried to make this matchup out to be the second coming Crosby vs. Ovechkin, but the bad blood between division rivals Washington and Pittsburgh simply cannot compare to Edmonton and Toronto, who only face each other twice a year. Both players are excellent talents with their entire careers ahead of them, so it will be fun to continue to watch the personal rivalry between the two continue to build over the years. In a shortened rookie campaign last year, McDavid finished with 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 45 games as an 18-year-old. Matthews, too young to be eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry draft by two days, choose to play overseas rather than continue as an amateur or go north to play juniors in Canada. He signed a one-year deal with the ZSC Lions in the Swiss National League A, scoring 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 36 games.
Yet to play a full season at the NHL level, McDavid is already a star in the league. With the combination of his hands, skating, and overall knowledge of the game, he has the potential to be a talent like nothing the world has seen in years. Not surprisingly, the Gretzky comparisons began right away, especially after being drafted by Edmonton. Last year, the Great One said McDavid was a talent as good as any that he’s seen in the last 30 years, and compared him to Lemieux and Crosby before he was even drafted. McDavid may be what the Oilers have been looking for, as they hope to clinch a playoff appearance for the first time in ten seasons this year.
The matchup gained the attention of the entire hockey world, including Wayne Gretzky, the newest member to the Oilers’ management team, who flew in to take on the action. McDavid’s agent, Bobby Orr, and former Oiler great Paul Coffey were also in attendance. Nazem Kadri led the way for the Leafs, with two goals including the overtime game winner, while Ben Smith added the middle score. Anton Lander and Darnell Nurse netted goals for Edmonton. The game, of course, was not on TV in the United States, as NBCSN chose to feature the Lightning and Islanders game instead.
The two teams meet again on November 29th in Edmonton.
Photo courtesy of: https://twitter.com/hockeynight/status/793573844552413184