Maple Leafs marvel at McDavid’s pace ahead of Oilers visit

“No I do not think so [I’ve seen anything like it]’ Tavares said on Friday. “He’s on track for numbers that we haven’t seen since [Wayne] Gretzki and [Mario] Lemieux, so pretty good two guys to compare yourself to if your numbers match [them]. It’s pretty remarkable. He makes everyone look so slow. It’s just incredible what he can do, not just how fast he is, but what he’s doing at that speed and how he thinks the game.

“Everyone can see the confidence and how aggressively he’s trying to attack the net, shoot the puck and fool with it, how he’s developed his clearance.”

McDavid leads the NHL with 54 goals in 66 games, nine more than the Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak, who is second. The center also leads the league with 124 points (70 assists), 27 more than teammates Leon Draisaitl in the second.

McDavid is on his way to 154 points and could become the first player to surpass 150 in a season since Mario Lemieux had 161 (69 goals, 92 assists) for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995-96.

Because McDavid had infrequent numbers, Toronto appearances have been almost as rare lately, at least in front of full audiences, for the Richmond Hill, Ontario native about 45 minutes’ drive north of Scotiabank Arena.

The last time McDavid played here in front of a full crowd was Monday January 6, 2020 when he batted Morgan Rielly with a memorable bluff and a 1-on-1 draw to give the Oilers a 6-4 win.

Finally, 1,161 days later, McDavid will again be in front of a full Toronto crowd when the Oilers take on the Maple Leafs on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNO, SNP) at the Scotiabank Arena.

McDavid and the Oilers have never played to a full crowd on a Saturday night here in their eight NHL seasons. His only other Saturday night game in Toronto came on March 27, 2021 while the city was under restrictions prohibiting large gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s always special,” said McDavid, the Edmonton captain, who has ten points (two goals, eight assists) in eight games in Toronto in eight NHL seasons. “Especially on a Saturday night, we always play on a Monday or Wednesday night or something, but it’s nice that it’s on a Saturday.”

McDavid said he didn’t have much to do in town on Friday other than have dinner with his mother. Once Saturday comes, his sole focus will be helping the Oilers to a third straight win.

“I want the Edmonton Oilers to win, that’s all I want,” McDavid said. “If [a lot of offense is] how it works personally, great. If not and I need to play a lesser role, that’s great too. The biggest thing is to come in here and win a big game against a good team in a tough building. That’s our focus.”

Edmonton (36-22-8) ranks third in the Pacific Division with the Seattle Kraken and is the first wild card in the Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs. Toronto (39-17-8) is second in the Atlantic Division, 17 points behind Boston.

McDavid was held without a point in the Oilers’ 3-2 win at the Bruins on Thursday, but had two goals and an assist in the 5-2 home win over the Maple Leafs on March 1.

“What he’s doing is pretty crazy, and we kind of get to witness it and observe it,” says Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner called. “When you’re out there you want to make sure you’re not giving him that time and space, try to limit his chances as much as possible. It’s just staying above him, maintaining your speed with him and trying to keep him out.”

Toronto center Austin MatthewsAlso impressed was , who won the Hart Trophy as the most valuable NHL player and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the top scorer (60) last season.

“Obviously he’s in a class by himself and what he’s done is quite remarkable,” Matthews said. “Every time he’s out there you have to be aware of that because he’s extremely dangerous.

“They obviously want an answer and honing in on some of our details that we didn’t seem to have had a week ago.”

Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said McDavid’s impact this season goes beyond statistics.

“[McDavid] took it to another level this year,” Woodcroft said. “I think everyone goes to score, but that speaks for itself [with] the pace he’s at right now. But I would go on the lead side of things and step him up on that part of his game. It’s not just about leading by example Connor McDavidit’s about getting teammates to do things right.

“It’s something I’m privy to as a coach, I see that. I just see someone who has made a real step on that side of things. On the ice, what he’s doing is spectacular. I don’t think that it should be lost to no one from what we’re seeing in his performance in the regular season.”

Woodcroft, in his second season as NHL coach, will coach his first game in his hometown on Saturday. It will also have additional meaning for the Oilers’ forwards Zach Hyman and goalkeeper Jack Campell.

Hyman played his first six NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs before signing a seven-year contract with the Oilers on July 28, 2021. He returned to Toronto last season when Edmonton lost 2-4 on Jan. 5, 2022, but the game was played in front of an extremely limited crowd due to COVID-19 regulations. McDavid missed this game on the NHL COVID-19 transcript.

“It’s great to be back and to see so many friends and family,” said Hyman, who has a career-high NHL record of 72 points (29 goals, 43 assists) in 65 games this season. “And it will be great to play to a full building. When we played here last season there were no fans due to COVID restrictions. Don’t you remember I waved you all to the press box? I have so many great memories from my time there. Now I’m in Edmonton and we’re trying to make new ones.”

Campbell, who is 17-9-4 in 32 games (30 starts) this season with a 3.57 clean sheet average and .882 save percentage, has signed a five-year, $25 million contract ($5 million average annual value ) with Edmonton on July 13, 2022, after playing three seasons with Toronto.

“It’s been a struggle at times, a year of ups and downs,” said Campbell. “You just have to work to get through it. The guys have been very supportive. Coming back to Toronto I can’t say enough about how amazing the fans and the city have been to me. It was something special and I will always cherish my time there.”

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