There’s no denying the buzz around a Connor McDavid versus Nathan MacKinnon showdown. Two of the fastest and most skilled skaters in the NHL are about to go head-to-head in what could be a seven-game Western Conference Finals series between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. It’s the match-up everyone wanted to see, but the storyline surrounding the series is so much more than just one great player versus another.
The Oilers and Avalanche are two great teams that have repeatedly experienced playoff disappointment. Both teams are chalked-full of high-end skill, but both clubs have been bounced from the postseason far earlier than insiders would have predicted in seasons past. This is the year that the Oilers and Avs both try to prove the doubters wrong.
For the Oilers, they’re doing well by getting this far. Having gone through two series and won them (including one they were considered the underdogs), the narrative around McDavid and his team has already shifted. McDavid hasn’t just elevated his play, the rest of the team has followed. Still, there’s a long way to go. Even if there are plenty of years with this Oilers’ core still intact, they don’t want to wait because chances don’t always come around like this.
For the Avalanche, this is a team that has been expected to be good and their time is running out to prove just how good. MacKinnon has one more season on his current deal. The time is now. They almost won the Presidents’ Trophy until a 12-game winning streak by the Florida Panthers knocked them out of the NHL’s top spot. Make no mistake, they are that good.
Again, this series isn’t just about two players. The depth and other stars on both rosters will have an impact on this series. For the Oilers, backing up McDavid is Leon Draisaitl. He’s had an incredible run in the postseason with 17 points in the five-game series with the Calgary Flames. He’s got 26 points in the playoffs already. Oh, and he’s done it on one good foot. This comes after a 110-point season. For the Avs, it’s Mikko Rantanen. He’s got 11 points in 10 playoff games and scored 92 points in 75 regular-season contests.
On the blue line, the buzz is all about Cale Makar and how much of a difference he’ll make for the Avalanche. He’s likely to win the Norris Trophy this season. He had an 86-point season and has 13 points in 10 games for the Avalanche. The Oilers don’t really have a stud like him on the blue line, but Evan Bouchard, one day, hopes to be that guy for the Oilers. He’ll never be as fast or dynamic, but he’s got 8 points in 12 games for the Oilers and is quickly shooting up the depth chart and becoming the team’s top go-to offensive weapon from the back end.
The Avs also have Gabriel Landeskog at center and the Oilers have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Landeskog has 11 points in 10 games, while Nuge has 11 points in 12 games. Both are considered well-rounded centers. On the wing, it’s Evander Kane versus someone like Nazem Kadri. Kane leads the NHL in goals for these playoffs and Kadri is coming off an incredible season. Both are UFAs at the end of the year and both offer incredible offensive upside while being the pests of the respective rosters. Neither are afraid to mix it up and both will be called upon to get the stars off of their games.
This is not to ignore the contributions from players like Zach Hyman or Valeri Nichuskin or the goaltender matchup between Mike Smith and Darcy Kuemper.
This series is bound to be incredible and while the flashy match-up worth talking about is McDavid versus MacKinnon, the team that can get their depth to step up is likely the team that makes it to the Stanley Cup Final.
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