It’s been said that Connor McDavid was the second coming of Sidney Crosby – and then it was said that Auston Matthews was the second coming of McDavid. So it has been every year with the first overall pick, and so it goes.
We are incredibly lucky to get to watch the world’s best players take the ice at once, but when you get into comparisons like that, it’s hard to appreciate them for what they are. Brilliant playmaking, a high hockey IQ, leadership skills, and an uncanny natural talent with the puck characterize all of these forwards, and then some. On the other hand, every player’s path to the NHL and the trials and tribulations they face once there, shape their careers and playing styles uniquely.
I’ll admit it now; I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Of course I’m biased. However, Crosby is much further along in his career and has ten years in the NHL to show us what he’s made of, and why he’s the best active player in the world. McDavid and Matthews have 76 games combined. They’re also both still teenagers.
It’s hard to draw comparisons or even trajectories of where the younger two players’ careers may go. Both may challenge or overtake Crosby’s point totals way down the road as Sid famously had a rough career full of injuries that have prevented him from ever playing a full season, and they’re both offensive dynamos. Heck, Matthews broke an NHL record in his very first game, scoring four goals in his regular season debut.
Though it may be difficult to look that far in the future and say anything for sure, we can look at the present and see what’s going on now. The Penguins have played – and beaten – both McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers and Matthews’ Toronto Maple Leafs already this season.
Edmonton has been something of a pleasant surprise out of the gate this year, topping the resurgent Pacific Division with 19 points and an all-around dynamic, deep team. I know. I never thought I’d say that, either. While having Cam Talbot in goal has certainly helped them, it seems to be McDavid’s newly acquired captaincy that is really the difference maker.
We Pittsburgh fans know that feeling. It’s like Deja vu: years of underperforming leads to a phenomenal first-overall pick, who is quickly named captain and begins an upward trajectory for his team. No one needs to tell us how great it feels to watch that unfold, either.
(I’m done bragging, I promise.)
McDavid, unsurprisingly, has been a huge factor on the score sheet as well. He has 19 points in 16 games played this season, and is a +5. When the Oilers took the ice in Pittsburgh, McDavid assisted on all three of their goals. The Penguins ended up winning 4-3 in a contentious, evenly matched game.
The Leafs’ visit to Pittsburgh was far less leveled, in that the Penguins took a decisive 4-1 victory after putting 49 shots on goal. Crosby picked up a goal and an assist in that time, while Zach Hyman, of all people, was the only one to score for the Leafs. Does that mean Matthews is in a slump?
Spoiler alert: Not at all. He’s played fifteen games and it was physically impossible for anyone to keep up the torrid scoring pace he started out with. He’s nineteen. He also has a weaker supporting cast than both McDavid and Crosby do.
Plus, he’s still got 12 points – six goals and six assists – and is tied for the Leafs’ point lead with Mitch Marner and William Nylander, both of whom are also having ridiculous rookie seasons so far.
So yes, Crosby is still the best player in the league, and probably the world. Until the younger superstars get some more experience under their belt at the NHL level, they won’t be able to rival him in terms of that title. Other established players like Alex Ovechkin and Anze Kopitar are also up there, depending on who you ask, but they still have not come near Sid’s level of overall play.
I expect McDavid and Matthews can and will do that. And it will sure be a fun ride.