The NHL’s future was on display Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
No, it wasn’t team North America bringing the (old) band back together, though we certainly yearn for one more game with the team that captured our hearts during the World Cup of Hockey in September.
It was the Edmonton Oilers in town to face the Maple Leafs. Among those skating included Oilers’ 19-year-old captain and phenom, Connor McDavid. A native of Newmarket, Ontario, Tuesday’s match up represented a homecoming for the former 2015 first overall pick, who missed last year’s visit suffering a broken collarbone.
The native son was held without a point as the Oilers fell in overtime 3-2 to the Leafs. McDavid tallied four shots on goal and his 22:46 led all forwards in the game.
Despite the big minutes, he was mostly held in check by the Leafs defense and goaltender, Frederik Andersen, who stopped 38 of 40 shots, earning the victory. There were no high-speed rushes up the ice with the puck, something that has become part of McDavid’s M.O. since arriving to the league one year ago.
Meanwhile, Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ first overall selection in June’s entry draft, who is just one month into his NHL career, had an equally quiet night. Matthews recorded a team-leading six shots on goal to go along with just under 15 minutes of ice time.
Like his linemate at the World Cup, he too was kept off off the board thanks to the defense and goaltending of Cam Talbot, who stopped Matthews’ six in a 28-save effort.
Instead, they had to rely on others to find the back of the net. Nazem Kadri did so scoring 1:29 into the first period and after surrendering two leads, scored the overtime winner 12 seconds in for the game-winner.
While neither one of the phenoms-in-the-making were published on the official score sheet, all the anticipation and hype remains justified, as the league’s future was on full display.
Unfortunately, most viewers in the United States weren’t treated to the privilege of watching the two 19-year-old star’s (in the making) go head-to-head for the first time in their respective careers. The national game on NBC Sports Net (NBCSN) opted instead for the airing of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the New York Islanders.
A decent game match up on most nights, but puzzling to say the least considering the array of upcoming talent More than just McDavid and Matthews, A.C.C. was basically an episode of Degarassi. Youth like Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, Leon Draisatl, Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi provided for a crystal ball look into what awaits the NHL’s talent pool. Though it doesn’t appear likely that these names will all become household–at least not as long as they’re in Canada.
Ultimately, the Lightning-Islanders game saw a 6-1 blowout for Tampa, who had struggled scoring as of late–held to just one in each of their three prior games. Meanwhile the Islanders remained heavily scrutinized for their inability to sustain efficient ice, of all things at the Barclays Center, their home arena and quickly becoming the biggest headache in the league.
Fans in Canada, or those with special subscription packages meanwhile likely saw Tuesday’s game and fortunate to see get a first-hand look some of the many faces of the league down the road.
While the present day NHL still has the luxury of star-laden American markets such as Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, there will eventually come a time where the league will have to embrace the markets north of the boarder, boasting some of the biggest stars the game has to offer. Among them: Flames’ forwards, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. As well as, Jets’ Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine. And that doesn’t even include the mainstay’s, like Montreal’s Carey Price or the dynamic defenseman in Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson.
If ever there was a fan base that could put aside its nationalism to encounter some of the best, most skilled competition the league has to offer, it would be the NHL. It has sadly become a novelty to see Canadian markets featured on national and cable broadcasts.
Perhaps the current wave of stars playing in Canada will serve as change agent, but for now everything appears as status quo.