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Is Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid the Best NHL Player?

Both the Oilers Connor McDavid and the Maple Leafs Auston Matthews are generational talents. Which player is the best – right now?

In 2018, Sportsnet had a vote about whether fans would rather have Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid on their team. As you can see below, more than 10,000 votes were cast and McDavid was the choice – actually by a wide margin. But that was two years ago, what would fans say today?

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Ranking These Two Generational Talents

In this post, I’m going to rank these two great players in eight areas.

Area #1: Skating

Wide Edge: Connor McDavid

As far as skating goes, there’s no contest. McDavid is the best skater ever to play NHL hockey. So, there’s a big edge to McDavid in this area. In fact, every year at the skills competition on all-star weekend, McDavid is the player to beat in the race for the title of the Fastest Skater Competition.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Area #2: Shooting

Edge: Auston Matthews

Matthews has absolutely great hands, a very quick release, and an accurate shot. McDavid is trickier close to the goal – and very smart about faking goalies. Matthews shoots the puck through goalies – his shot is hard and right on target.

Area #3: Playmaking

Edge: Connor McDavid

Matthews has great puck-handling ability, immense hockey IQ, and good transition through the middle. However, no one sees the ice as well as McDavid. He thinks to pass first and shoot second.

Area #4: Defensive Ability

Big Edge: Auston Matthews

Matthews plays a 200-foot game and has developed into a more well-rounded player than McDavid. Matthews skates fast enough to disrupt the play, and McDavid has defensive issues that Matthews simply doesn’t.  There’s even been talk of support for Matthews as a Norris Trophy winner – the award given each year to to the National Hockey League’s top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Area #5: Talent Level

Edge: Connor McDavid (so far)

I have no doubt who the more talented player is, it’s McDavid. There’s no question in my mind. McDavid will outscore Matthews regularly, but he won’t stop as many points. On the other hand, Matthews is grittier than McDavid; he’s bigger and stronger than McDavid; and, he’s playing a tougher more physical game every season. Might his top end one day rival McDavid’s? Perhaps, but not quite yet.

Area #6: On-Ice Impact

Edge: Auston Matthews

Season after season, it seems that the Maple Leafs engage in postseason playoff futility, but at least Toronto has qualified for the playoffs every single season Matthews has played. Not so with McDavid. He has experienced a single playoff series victory, but he’s only played in the postseason two times.

No doubt, that fact is more on Edmonton as a team than it is on McDavid. He’s had strong postseasons himself but he’s never had a supporting cast to push him further into playoff hockey. One great player simply cannot carry a team by himself – unlike NBA basketball. It simply isn’t often that the Oilers have been able to load up enough other weapons to allow McDavid to shine. Not even Leon Draisaitl has helped that much.

McDavid scores hat trick
Connor McDavid scores hat trick

Area #7: Behavior off the ice

Big Edge: Connor McDavid (So Far)

Everyone knows of Matthews’ incident in Arizona where he was charged with disruptive behavior and disorderly conduct. However, since that incident and his penitence, Matthews has been gold. He’s shown growth in a large number of ways. That he behaved poorly and that incident might have cost him the captaincy of the team.

With good reason, McDavid is the captain of the Oilers. He’s, since Day 1, been a class act. It seems as if Matthews is growing into one, he’s not at McDavid’s level yet.

Night after night, McDavid shows up and plays hard without whining. He’s positive and a great example. Likely, the same can be true of Matthews – one day he too will become a great example. In fact, these young players are both exemplary stars. McDavid has always been a star; and, for Matthews, it didn’t take long to become one.

Area #8: Value of Their Contracts

Hmmm – Slight Edge: Auston Matthews

McDavid is being paid $12.5 million through the 2025-26 season. Matthews is being paid $11.634 through the 2023-24 season. Forgetting about COVID-19’s impact on hockey revenue, given the current hockey realities, both players are on value contracts – really.

At first, when Matthews signed a contract so close to McDavid’s in value, there might have been some head-shaking. However, as Matthews has grown closer to McDavid in terms of his impact on the ice, Matthews’ contract is looking good as well. The only better thing about McDavid’s contract is its length – he’s under contract for two more years than Matthews.

Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner - NHL Trade Rumors
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner – NHL Trade Rumors

The Final Call?

My call right now is that McDavid remains the better and more valuable player. However, both Matthews and McDavid are generational talents and we’re lucky to watch them both play – if we can this season. Their highlights will fill sports shows and YouTube videos for seasons to come.

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  1. Colton

    November 13, 2020 at 7:10 am

    Matthews is not the tougher more physical of the two, he’s 6’3 and soft as dog shit, hasn’t thrown a hit in his career. McDavid is the same way, I don’t think you can make that a category of comparison because they both need to step that part of there game up a lot.

  2. Nicholas

    November 13, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    Lmao, confusing the Norris with the Selke. What a joke article.

  3. dboilers

    November 14, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Really? Who would ever pick Matthews over 97?

  4. Oilers44

    November 15, 2020 at 10:56 pm

    Stupid article, Matthews isn’t sound defensively at all. Quite frankly both are soft defensively, but McDavid is better by a long shot. Heck, Draisaitl is better than Matthews and that isn’t all that close either.

  5. Christopher M

    February 7, 2021 at 4:36 pm

    Matthews is a shockingly one dimensional player so far. Yes that one dimension, goal scoring, has possibly been even better than anticipated, but where is the playmaking? His assists are shockingly low for playing in a team where he is surrounded by offensive talent. That’s about it. Seriously, the guy has yet to approach 100 points in a season! As for his defensive game, it’s okay.

    McDavid on the other hand is one of the very best playmakers on the planet. His skating alone should draw potentialities multiple times a game (if the refs called the rulebook with an any degree of consistency). He’s not as good a goal scorer as Matthews (yet) but he’s gotten better at finishing every season. Barring injury or shortened season, he’s a lock for 100 points every year.

    How’s this for a career overview? McDavid has nearly 200 points more than Matthews thus far! He’s essentially lapped him a couple times already. That’s about 2.5 seasons worth of Matthews-level points production that McDavid has generated, despite an inferior supporting cast. Yes, he’s played more games, but only about 2/3rds of a season more.

    Conclusion: Matthews hasn’t disappointed by any stretch. However, aside from goal scoring, I don’t think he’s quite lived up to the hype either. Will he get there if he improves his game? Quite likely.

    McDavid meanwhile, is on track to be an all time great. Already. In fact, if he retired today, I would bet real money that he’d be a Hall Of Famer.

    Matthews? Not even close.

    We’re taking about a perennial 80 point scorer vs. a perennial 110 point scorer. How is this even a debate? And this is coming from a Flames fan.

  6. Christopher M

    February 7, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    I would add that McDavid continues to improve year after year at an arguably measurably faster rate than Matthews. I’m not sure we’ve even come close to seeing peak McDavid yet. In a full season, I think his feeling is 50 goals and 11 30 to 150 points. That’s shear insanity by today’s standards. Meanwhile, I suspect Matthews MAY one day hit 100 points in a given season. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

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