Declaring your team's most important player is not a simple thing. It's not always the most valuable guy or the highest points producer. It is the player who makes your team go; the one you can't afford to lose, even if all he contributes can't be measured by fancy stats.
Most Important Player: Connor McDavid, Center
Not often would we anoint someone with zero games of NHL experience as a team’s most important player, but 18-year-old phenom Connor McDavid is a noteworthy exception.
The Richmond Hill, Ontario, native was not just the first overall pick for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2015 draft; he is being heralded as a generational talent by most in the hockey community, drawing comparisons to elite players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and, most recently, Sidney Crosby.
Consider this: The Great One himself believes the young star is worth the hype, and he had no problem admitting as much in an interview with The Edmonton Journal back in April: "He's as good as I've seen in the last 30 years, the best player to come into the league in the last 30 years, the best to come along since Lemieux and Crosby. He can definitely change a franchise's fortunes."
And that last thought brings us to why he is absolutely critical to the Oilers, a franchise fraught with disappointment and dysfunction and desperate for a drastic turnaround. If any player can effectuate that sort of change, it’s McDavid.
Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but he better get used to it, because the expectations and the scrutiny will only intensify once training camp starts in September.
Despite three No. 1 picks in the previous five years, the Oilers continued to toil at the bottom of the standings this past season with an abysmal 24-44-14 record that resulted in the dismissal of head coach Dallas Eakins (former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan was hired as his replacement this summer) and a massive shakeup in the front office (Peter Chiarelli, formerly of the Boston Bruins, will take over as general manager).
For all of the organizational changes made, none holds more promise to a down-trodden, long-suffering Oilers fanbase as the addition of McDavid.
The former Ontario Hockey League standout is a virtual lock to make the team out of training camp, and the Oilers will be counting on his offensive acumen. McDavid was a sensation in junior hockey, finishing with 44 goals and 120 points in just 47 games this past season for the Erie Otters.
It’s not just his prolific production, though. Most importantly, McDavid should reinvigorate the franchise with a sense of hope and inject a new-found sense of enthusiasm to a city that has otherwise felt pretty bleak about its prospects.