McDavid driven to improve his game, help make Oilers more successful

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EDMONTON — Connor McDavid said he is determined to raise the bar even higher this season for himself and the Edmonton Oilers.

“I feel good,” McDavid said Tuesday. “I worked hard this summer, worked on my game and just tried to think of different ways to create offense, obviously round out my game, the full 200-foot game, be better defensively and harder off face-offs, the same type of stuff.”

The 24-year-old center won the Hart Trophy voted as most valuable player in the NHL for the second time (also 2016-17) last season after scoring 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) in 56 games. It was the third time (also in 2016-17 and 2017-18) he won the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s scoring leader.

His production has been accelerating since he entered the NHL in 2015, with a points-per-game pace that has gone from 1.07 to 1.22 to 1.32 to 1.49 to 1.52 to 1.88, a pace that could see him eclipse 150 points in 82 games this season.

McDavid said he continues to look for the next level, the edge that can push him and elevate his team. One of the things the Oilers captain has been working on heading into the season-opening game against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, SN, ESPN+, NHL LIVE) is improving his shot, including adding a one-timer option, especially on the power play.

“So many teams are worried about my speed and they back in, where if I can find a way to shoot it by some guys and score from outside, it might force them to come up and now I can beat them wide again,” McDavid said. 

That development has certainly pleased Dave Tippett. McDavid’s desire to improve is even stronger when it comes to team goals, the Oilers coach said. 

“You love it when guys want to get better,” Tippett said.

Edmonton (35-19-2) was second in the Scotia North Division last season but was swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round. The Oilers have advanced past the first round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs once during McDavid’s six seasons with them (2017).

“I think for him it’s not about individual stuff, it’s about team stuff,” Tippett said. “He wants to the team to take the next step. He understands his role on this team, which is a big part of it. Part of it is his play, part of it is [being] captain. There’s a big role to fill, but he wants the team to have success. He understands that everybody else has to do their job and has to chip in just like he does. 

“A player like that, if he plays his game, he’s confident he can play his game but he wants our team to be in the right place too, and that’s a big part of his mindset right now.”

McDavid will begin the season on a line with Leon Draisaitl, the 2019-20 Hart Trophy winner, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Tippett said it will give him a chance to evaluate some of the depth Edmonton has added at forward, in particular Zach Hyman, who signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract July 28; Warren Foegele, who was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Ethan Bear on July 28 and signed a three-year, $8.25 million contract on July 31; and Derek Ryan, who signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract July 28.

“Connor and Leon have a great track record together and Hyman coming in and Foegele coming in and Derek Ryan, it gives us some of that extra depth, so we’re going to see what we have early,” Tippett said.

Last season, McDavid became the ninth player all-time to score at least 100 points in 53 games or fewer, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Jari Kurri, Phil Esposito, Bernie Nicholls, Steve Yzerman and Marcel Dionne.

Oilers goalie Mike Smith believes there is still more upside for McDavid.

“I think he’s very focused,” Smith said. “I see that. You see the determined player that coming off the season he did, he’s a determined player that wants to do more. It’s exciting playing with a guy like that isn’t satisfied with the season he had last year and wants to be on the other side of the winning part of it. Connor’s just a determined young man who’s going to continue to get better, which is scary to think, but he puts in the work, puts in the time to be the best he can be and he’ll be a huge part of our team’s success this year.”

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