McDavid using voice, skill to be true leader for Oilers

“I’m aware that we’re witnessing something special, a generational superstar playing in the prime of his career,” Woodcroft said.

But Woodcroft also wants people to know about the McDavid the hockey world doesn’t see or hear.

It’s the McDavid who is using his skill and his voice to become a true leader for the Oilers.

“You get to see the final product and I get to see the work that goes into that final product,” Woodcroft said. “I see somebody who is driven by team success. Where I’ve seen a lot of growth in him, and I’ve been around him at different points for the last eight years, I see growth in driving a team with his leadership, not just in setting an example but in holding teammates to a certain standard and holding people to account. I have seen a lot of growth in that area for him.”

McDavid hinted at that growth in September during the NHL North American Player Media Tour in Las Vegas.

“I think just being a little bit more comfortable, more comfortable with being captain, comfortable in the room, comfortable doing media stuff,” McDavid said on the “NHL @TheRink” podcast.

McDavid has always been comfortable on the ice, winning the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer four times and the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP twice.

The 25-year-old leads the NHL this season with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists), including a goal and two assists in Edmonton’s 4-3 overtime win against the Florida Panthers on Monday.

It was a second straight win for the Oilers (12-10-0), who play the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday (9:30pm ET; SN360, SNW, TVAS).

Woodcroft, along with McDavid’s teammates who have been with him the longest, see that comfort manifesting in his ability to lead the Oilers, by example and with his voice.

“He’s become more vocal, I think,” Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse he said.

Nurse has been McDavid’s teammate since the Oilers selected the center with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. They were roommates at one time.

“First and foremost, he’s a leader by example and goes out and sets the work ethic not only on the ice but off the ice also,” said Nurse, who was drafted No. 7 by Oilers in the 2013 NHL Draft. “And he’s gotten more and more comfortable with speaking up when something needs to be said. He’s got a good pulse of the room, a good pulse of everybody.”

Nurse remembers McDavid early in his career when he was barely audible.

“He probably didn’t want to [speak up],” Nurse said. “There’s a lot of pressure that comes along with it.”

McDavid himself said he always felt “super awkward” when forced to use his voice either in the room or in the media earlier in his career.

“I’m sure it was like pulling teeth,” he said.

Now it’s not.

“Now he doesn’t really care, he just says what’s on his mind,” Nurse said.

Forward Leon Draisaitl also said McDavid has developed his voice over the past few seasons.

“He’s naturally not the loudest guy and obviously he does a lot of his leadership in terms of his work ethic and the way he leads on the ice, but over the last couple years he’s really developed a vocal type of leadership in the room,” Draisaitl said.

Draisaitl, also McDavid’s teammate since 2015, said he has seen what Woodcroft has noticed.

“That’s how you build a culture, right,” Draisaitl said. “That’s how you create something special, by holding guys accountable and he does that. It doesn’t really matter who it is, he does it to anybody and he does it the right way.”

Woodcroft called that type of leadership “priceless.”

“I think that resonates,” Woodcroft said. “I can walk in the room and say, ‘This is the standard.’ But when your best player and the best player in the game lives it on an everyday basis, I think the next generation of Edmonton Oilers have no choice but to fall in line.”

Likes Dylan Hollowaythe Oilers’ 21-year-old forward who was a selected No. 14 in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Holloway is learning the inner workings of McDavid the captain this season. Like everyone else, he already knew about McDavid the player.

“Nothing he asks out of us he’s not willing to do himself,” Holloway said. “That’s the biggest thing. Whenever we need a little spark or anything, he’ll be the first guy to get in on the forecheck, first guy to go make a play, make things happen.

“As a kid growing up I was watching him and now that I’m able to witness it firsthand in practice and from the bench, it’s just pretty cool to see how he does it. He asks a lot of the guys, but it’s nothing that he doesn’t hold himself to already.”

Much of what the Oilers are saying about McDavid is what Nathan MacKinnon‘s teammates were saying about him before he led the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup championship last season.

The Oilers believe the arc with McDavid will eventually be the same.

“I’ve been involved in some international tournaments with [MacKinnon] and I saw what he did to us in the playoffs last year,” Woodcroft said. “Certainly a top player at the top of his game who helped their team get to where they wanted to get to. I see Connor McDavid as being not only an elite player and an elite person, but somebody growing into that leadership role.

“He wants the Edmonton Oilers to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get that done.”


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