Ahead of the season, the Edmonton Oilers stripped defenseman Andrew Ference of the captaincy in favor of naming four alternates. But following a season in which Ference, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle all shared duty as the leaders of the Oilers, it appears the team is ready to name a captain, and don’t be surprised if that captain is Connor McDavid.
When asked Sunday if the Oilers would have a captain — a definite, ‘C’-wearing leader — next season, GM Peter Chiarelli said he believed that would be the case. Chiarelli stopped short of naming McDavid the future captain, but all signs are pointing in that direction. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported it’s likely that McDavid will be named the official leader of the team sometime before the 2016-17 season. However, if there was any lingering doubt about McDavid as captain, it was all but put to rest Monday as coach Todd McLellan extolled the virtues of McDavid following the burgeoning star’s rookie campaign.
“Connor was a tremendous leader with us this year in his short time with us. His presence alone when he walks into the room — and he knows it — he exudes confidence, he carries himself properly,” McLellan said. “I think leaders attract to people. You want to be in his corner, you want to be around him and leaders, when they attract people, they care about people, too. And Connor has that going. He’s still 19, but I think he’s close to being the guy and ready for it.”
And whether or not he’s ready for it — and all signs indicate he indeed is — McLellan's praise makes it seem even more certain McDavid will have the ‘C’ on his sweater next season. And for the Oilers, naming McDaivd captain couldn’t make more sense.
With all the pressure that was on McDavid this season, it could have been understood if he stumbled here or there. But after two scoreless games to start his career, McDavid would start an absolute tear. Were it not for a broken clavicle that put him out of the lineup, McDavid could have been an 80-point player this season, and his points pace actually suggests he could have flirted with the 90-point plateau in his rookie season. And even though he missed 27 games, McDavid’s 16 goals and 48 points put him third in scoring on the Oilers.
Game in and game out when McDavid was healthy he was one of the most brilliant players on the ice for the Oilers, and he was no doubt looked to by teammates, coaches and fans to provide the offensive spark when need be. Furthermore, McDavid’s comments to wrap up the season made it clear he’s just as dedicated to turning things around in Edmonton as anyone in the Oilers' room. During the final meeting with the media, McDavid said losing eats him alive and “if it doesn’t then you shouldn’t really be here.”
“I know losing is something that’s happened a lot here in Edmonton for a while now and I think it just gets to a point where you have to just be so sick of losing that you can’t do it anymore,” McDavid added. “I think a lot of guys are definitely at that point. I’m a guy who definitely doesn’t handle losing well so this year has definitely been hard on me, but I definitely hope that’s something we can change next year.”
Add McDavid’s desire to win to his offensive talent, his status as one of the lone untouchables on the roster and that he’s come in and instantly become the face of the franchise and he’s the clear cut choice for captain. You could make an argument for Taylor Hall should he be around following the off-season, and Andrej Sekera would be a good, veteran option to take the captaincy, but both choices would seem like a placeholder -- a fill-in until McDavid is ready to take the crown.
Naming McDavid would mean a second-year player — one drafted little more than a year earlier — would step in to lead the Oilers but that’s not unprecedented. Jonathan Toews became captain of the Chicago Blackhawks before his sophomore season. The Pittsburgh Penguins named Sidney Crosby captain following his second year. And Gabriel Landeskog needed just one season to prove he was deserving of the Colorado Avalanche captaincy. McDavid would, however, become the youngest of captain of all-time were he given the honor in the off-season. Landeskog currently holds the title of youngest full-time captain, being named captain at 19 years, 286 days old. So long as McDavid was named captain before October 26, he would supplant Landeskog as the youngest captain in league history.
But age only means so much, and in McDavid’s case it actually might be a good thing. He can grow with the Oilers, lead them as he grows as a player and continue to become the face of the Oilers, like the Gretzkys, Messiers and Weights who came before. It’s evident, too, that McDavid’s teammates would be on board.
“I think, on the ice, he does everything the right way,” Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot said. “He doesn’t take shortcuts, he’s always the first one up the ice, first guy back on the backcheck. He leads by example on and off the ice, just the way he carries himself. There’s different ways that you can lead and it doesn’t always have to be vocal. Connor is just one of those guys who leads by example and that’s a guy you can follow.”
And come next season, there’s a good chance McDavid will be that guy — the captain that the Oilers will follow.