September 10, 2015

What History Says To Expect From Connor McDavid In Year One

As Connor McDavid's much anticipated NHL debut is about to get underway, I find it interesting what the prognosticators are saying. Just how great can this prodigious talent - this generational talent - be right away?

It seems to be a common bet that McDavid will score somewhere around 85 points and win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. Some have him scoring over 100 points, and even winning the scoring title. 

But very few have Edmonton making the playoffs. And that, in my opinion, will be bang on.

History suggests that no matter how good of a rookie season Connor McDavid has, the Oilers aren't likely to be a whole lot better.

There is a lot of hype almost every year when it comes to the top overall pick, but, with apologies to Dale Hawerchuk and Steven Stamkos and even Denis Potvin, there are 8 prospects who were, like Connor McDavid now, the rare players of destiny - the generational player. These are players who have been anticipated for years before their draft day.

Let's take a look at those 8 players, and how they and their team fared in their rookie NHL seasons.

Jean Beliveau - 1953-54. Age 22: 44 games played (in 70 game schedule). 13 goals, 34 points. Montreal finished with 35 wins and 81 points, 2nd overall among 6 teams. That marked a 7 win and 6 point improvement in the standings. After winning the Stanley Cup in 1953 Montreal lost the Stanley Cup final in Beliveau's rookie season.

Bobby Orr - 1966-67. Age 18. 61 games played (in 70 game schedule). 13 goals, 41 points. NHL Rookie of the Year. Boston finished 6th out of 6 teams with just 17 wins and 44 points. The Bruins actually slid from the previous season by 4 wins and 4 points. Did not make playoffs.

Guy Lafleur -  1971-72. Age 20. 73 games played (in 78 game schedule). 29 goals, 64 points. Montreal improved over the previous season by 4 wins and 11 points, finishing 3rd out of 14 teams. But Montreal did not repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Wayne Gretzky - 1979-80. Age 19. 79 games played. 51 goals, 137 points, tied for first in scoring title but Art Ross Trophy went to Marcel Dionne based on goals scored as a tie breaker. Due to his previous season in the World Hockey Association, Gretzky was ruled ineligible for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, an award he clearly would have won otherwise. He did win the Hart Trophy as League MVP after all. However Edmonton only won 28 of their 80 games, finishing 16th overall out of 21 teams. No comparison to previous season as this was Edmonton's inaugural NHL season, too. 16 out of 21 teams made the playoffs back then, but the Oilers were swept in the best of 5 first round 3-0 by Philadelphia.

Mario Lemieux - 1984-85. Age 19. 73 games played. 43 goals, 100 points. NHL Rookie of the Year. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs with only 24 wins and 53 points, second worst record in the NHL. The Penguins did improve from the previous season by 8 wins and 15 points.

Eric Lindros - 1992-93. Age 19. 61 games played. 41 goals, 75 points, but fourth in Calder voting in arguably the greatest rookie class ever. Flyers had 36 wins and 83 points but missed the playoffs. Flyers improved by 4 wins and 8 points.

Sidney Crosby - 2005-06 Age 18. 81 games played. 39 goals, 102 points. Runner up for Rookie of the Year to the 20 year old Ovechkin. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs with just 22 wins and 58 points, a nearly identical record to 2003-04, as 2004-05 was lost to the NHL lockout.

Alexander Ovechkin - 2005-06. Age 20. 81 games played. 52 goals, 106 points. Rookie of the year. Washington also missed the playoffs, with 29 wins and 70 points. That represented a 6 win and 11 point improvement.

Let's throw Beliveau and Lafleur out of the mix. They both had underwhelming debuts on soon-to-be Stanley Cup dynasties. Montreal was already really good regardless of their prized rookies' contributions.

Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, Lindros, Crosby and Ovechkin all had spectacular first seasons. Yet only Gretzky was able to lift his team to the playoffs right away, and barely. The Oilers finished 16th in the 21 team league that allowed 16 teams in the playoffs. And McDavid's Oilers are in a much more competitive playoff fight than Gretzky's Oilers. 

We can hope and even expect for great things for Connor McDavid in his rookie season. But just don't expect McDavid alone to turn the Oilers fortunes around this year. Arguably Edmonton's fortunes may lie in the hands of new goalie Cam Talbot or underrated Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or, if he's ready, Darnell Nurse, more so than McDavid, this year.

Personally I would be thrilled if McDavid can reach 85 points or even higher. I do suspect he will get off to a really good start in the first 10-15 games or so, then level off some. I suspect he will really gain some traction in the second half of the season - not unlike Pavel Bure's first year.

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