EDMONTON — The defining moment of Connor McDavid’s standout season happened off the ice, according to his coach.
Todd McLellan says the introduction of McDavid as team captain Oct. 5 sent a message to the young centre about the confidence the Edmonton Oilers had in him, but also their expectations of him.
The 20-year-old responded by posting 100 points to win this year’s Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s scoring leader.
He’s also earned nominations for both the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award that go to the league’s most valuable player.
“It happened the day that he was told he was going to lead this group,” McLellan said Tuesday. “(We) sewed a ‘C’ onto his jersey.
“I think that elevated his, not sense of value, but just his priority list in the locker room for lack of a better explanation.
“He realized he was going to have to be on the forefront and produce on a nightly basis, not only offensively, but defensively, practice habits, carrying the spirit of the team, answering for the group and he’s done a real good job.”
The Hart winner is determined by a Professional Hockey Writers’ Association poll while the Ted Lindsay Award is voted on by the players.
If McDavid wins the Hart on June 21, he would be just the third player under the age of 21 to do so after Sidney Crosby (2007) and former Oiler Wayne Gretzky (1980).
“It’s special and it’s something I’m very proud of, but it’s a credit to be able to play with this group of guys and play with the players we have in this room,” McDavid said. “Definitely makes playing hockey a lot of fun.”
Crosby, a two-time winner, joins Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and McDavid as this year’s Hart nominees.
“He’s a guy I grew up watching obviously and to be up for this award with him, pretty cool,” McDavid said of Crosby.
San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns joins Crosby and McDavid as this year’s Ted Lindsay candidates.
McDavid compiled 30 goals and 70 assists playing all 82 games this season, and led the Oilers to their first playoff appearance since 2006. Crosby, now 29, totalled 44 goals and 45 assists in 75 games.
McDavid and the Oilers lead their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal against the Anaheim Ducks two games to one heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 at Rogers Place.
Pittsburgh was also up 2-1 in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Washington Capitals.
A Stanley Cup featuring Crosby and McDavid is a tantalizing prospect, but Crosby’s long-term status was unclear after suffering a concussion Monday.
The hit on Crosby by Washington defenceman Matt Niskanen was the talk of the hockey world Tuesday, but McDavid declined to join the chatter.
“”I saw the play. It happened so fast, I don’t have too much of an opinion on it,” he said. “You never want to see someone get hurt obviously, especially at this time of the year.”
McDavid, a six-foot-one, 200-pound centre from Newmarket, Ont., was nominated for the Calder Trophy last year despite a rookie season cut short by 37 games due to a broken clavicle.
Despite his poise and performance, his sophomore season wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“It was my first full regular season and there’s a lot of ups and downs,” McDavid said. “There’s a lot of times when you’re not playing your best hockey and you’ve got to get back to it.
“Earlier in the year, I think I had a 10-game goal drought or something like that. Everyone was harping on me then.”
He’s had Gretzky close by this season to help him deal with the stresses that come with hockey success and responsibility at a young age. Gretzky was named vice-chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group shortly after McDavid was introduced as team captain.
“Now especially, more than ever, I’ve had to rely on him and talk to him about certain things,” McDavid said. “Just going through this whole thing for the first time.”