Nowhere is Connor McDavid more comfortable than on his skates.
The sight of McDavid blowing past defenders is an almost every-game occurrence for the Edmonton Oilers captain whose speed is the envy of the NHL. McDavid’s crossover moves that propelled him a league-high 108 points came from years of cruising around on roller blades.
“Even when I wasn’t on the ice, I was always on my roller blades,” McDavid said. “It’s what’s kind of got me here. I love training that way. It’s kind of just by yourself. There’s no fancy skill coach, there’s no nothing. It’s just on your roller blades and working on some skills.”
That work has paid off for McDavid, the near-unanimous choice as the fastest skater in hockey. His peers are in awe of the 21-year-old’s quick first step, even quicker second step and shake-your-head acceleration.
“The way he skates, it’s something impossible, right?” Washington centre Evgeny Kuznetsov asked.
“He glides faster than a lot of us skate,” Winnipeg forward Mark Scheifele said.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Dallas captain Jamie Benn said.
McDavid credits roller hockey games against his dad and brother for refining his 1-on-1 skills. Growing up in Newmarket outside Toronto, McDavid was seen as hockey’s next generational star at age 14 but he didn’t spend so much time on the ice that he forgot his roller-blading roots.
“The classic ‘Mighty Ducks,“’ he said. “Put the garbage can there and just go out and play.”
Some of the best in the league think long and hard about how to force McDavid to go the way they want him to go and toe the line between giving him too much space. There isn’t a simple way to stop McDavid because no one can keep up with him.
“There’s not a lot of times where he toe-drags you or he over-under-arounds you kind of thing, where he turns you inside out,” Ducks defenceman Josh Manson said. “He just kind of puts it by you and his speed takes him and he makes you miss. Then he’s around you and he’s going in on the goalie and he’s probably going to score.”
After his 41 goals were sixth-most in the league, McDavid said over the summer he will try to score more this season. Former Oilers teammate and 2018 MVP Taylor Hall thinks McDavid could do it.
“When everyone thinks that he’s at his peak, he just keeps getting better and better, whether it’s goal-scoring or leadership — whatever it is,” the Devils’ leading scorer said. “Everyone thinks that, ‘OK he’s got 108 points, he’s going to get around that next year.’ There’s a good chance that he gets 115 or 120 and I wouldn’t be surprised. Just with the sublime skill that he has and the athleticism is just out of control.”
McDavid’s athleticism is different than Sidney Crosby’s because the Penguins captain derives his skating stride from lower-body strength. McDavid has quicker feet and the stick work to match.
“When he gets the puck on his stick, his hands move as fast as his feet and it just looks so easy for him,” Kings forward Tyler Toffoli said. “The way he crosses over and gains so much speed on guys and he’s able to beat a whole team by crossing over and making one move, it’s incredible to watch.”
McDavid won the fastest skater competition at All-Star Weekend the past two years. Even speedy contemporaries like Hall and Nathan MacKinnon consider him the standard.
But to McDavid, there’s still another gear he can get to with his speed.
“There’s always ways to improve,” McDavid said. “Guys that have the best shot in the world still shoot pucks, and that’s for a reason. You keep growing your game and finding different ways to produce. I definitely still work on my skating a lot.”