EDMONTON — 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 center.
"Oh my gosh," said 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 wing Johnny Gaudreau said.
The Lightning got its first up-close look at McDavid on Saturday night at Rogers Place, facing him for the first time since he was the 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick and anointed the heir apparent to Sidney Crosby as the game's best player. (McDavid was hurt for the teams' game last season.)
McDavid's 39 points in 32 games led the NHL entering Saturday.
"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 impressive. Bowman said the last player he saw accelerate as fast as McDavid 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, keep up with his feet.
"People can 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 played for Sweden and McDavid for Team North America (23-and-younger stars). On the first shift of the game, McDavid blew by Hedman and fellow Lightning/Sweden defenseman Anton Stralman. The Hedman-Stralman pairing was expected to get most of its shifts against McDavid on Saturday night.
"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 McDavid and Crosby are similar in how they think the game, and their passing ability. McDavid's 27 assists led the league going into Saturday's game. And Bowman pointed out that McDavid doesn't have a "sniper," an elite scorer, playing 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."
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who was on the Team North America staff at the World Cup, was struck by how mature McDavid is. "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?
Cooper laughed. "Ask me that after the game."
First—1, TB, Hedman 6 (Boyle, Filppula), 6:31. Penalties—Hedman, TB, (delay of game), 0:24.
Second—2, VAN, Sutter 8 (Eriksson, Granlund), 1:37. 3, VAN, Sbisa 1 (Baertschi, Burrows), 13:25. Penalties—Sedin, VAN, (tripping), 13:49.
Third—4, TB, Conacher 1 (Hedman, Drouin), 3:53 (pp). 5, VAN, Horvat 9 (Granlund, Eriksson), 7:46 (pp). 6, VAN, Burrows 6 (Horvat), 19:13. Penalties—Hansen, VAN, (tripping), 3:21; Killorn, TB, (holding), 6:08. SOG—TB 11-8-8—27. VAN 8-8-8—24. PP opportunities—TB 1 of 2; VAN 1 of 2. Goalies—TB, Vasilevskiy 6-4-1 (23 shots-20 saves). VAN, Miller 7-9-0 (27-25).