Lightning brace to face Connor McDavid for first time
You know you're witnessing an out-of-this-world talent in Connor McDavid when everyone from opponents to Hall of Fame coaches seem awestruck by the Oilers 19-year-old superstar.
"Oh my gosh," says Scotty Bowman, a nine-time Cup winning coach. "You can't stop him."
"That McDavid is just insane," Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa said.
"He's got the whole package," Flames star Johnny Gaudreau said.
The Lightning will get its first up-close look at McDavid Saturday at Rogers Place, facing McDavid for the first time since he was the 2015 No. 1 pick and heir apparent to Sidney Crosby as the game's best player. McDavid's 39 points in 32 games lead the NHL.
"Right now, after Crosby, (McDavid) is the best player I've seen," said Flames wing Kris Versteeg, a 13-year-veteran. "You can see his dynamic ability, there might not actually be anything like it. With his age, you might see the best player in a few years."
McDavid's speed is unparalleled, with Bowman saying the last player he saw accelerate that fast was Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr. "Once they're gone, they're gone," Bowman said.
But what really sets McDavid apart is how his hands, and brain, can keep up with his feet.
"People can skate kind of skate like him," Versteeg said. "There are guys that can skate fast. But people can't think at his rate. That's the thing that's kind of scary. When you can think as fast as he's skating, there's nobody that can actually do that."
Said Sbisa: "He goes full speed and his hands are the same as if he's standing still. That's the big difference."
So how do you defend him? Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman faced McDavid in September's World Cup when Hedman was with Team Sweden, McDavid Team North America (23-and-under stars). On the first shift of the game, McDavid blew by Hedman and fellow Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman. That Hedman-Stralman pairing will likely get most of its shifts against McDavid tonight.
"You've got to try to have the puck as much as you can when he's on the ice and make him play in his own end," Hedman said. "
Said Sbisa: "As a d-man, I don't think you can play him too aggressively. You have to really pick your spots. You have to close on him and take away his time and space."
Easier said than done.
Versteeg said both McDavid and Crosby are similar in how they think the game, as well as their passing ability. McDavid's 27 assists lead the league. And Bowman points out McDavid doesn't yet have a "sniper" to play alongside him.
"It's not like he's just a shooter, or just a passer," Sbisa said. "It kind of sounds cheesy to say he's good at everything, but he's good at everything."
Coach Jon Cooper, who was on the Team North America staff at the World Cup, was struck with how mature McDavid was. "He seemed like a six-year vet," Cooper said. "His presence was impressive. It goes hand in hand with his play on the ice. Just an impressive, impressive kid."\
So will having coached McDavid give Cooper an advantage in stopping him tonight?
Cooper laughed. "Ask me that after the game."