McDavid’s NHL MVP defense begins with defensive improvement

Sports

FILE – Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) plays against the Vancouver Canucks during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, file photo. McDavid is back on the ice this week as he tries to build off a unanimous MVP season. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

Connor McDavid did not take much time off after he and the Edmonton Oilers were swept out of the playoffs in the first round.

The unanimous NHL MVP returned to the ice in July and worked hard to improve his defensive game with an eye on building off a 105-point season in just 56 games. McDavid’s preparations take another step this week, skating with more than a dozen other players at the annual BioSteel pro hockey camp, and becoming a better all-around player is his focus.

“This is one of those weeks where guys are really trying to ramp it up and dial in their details, and I’m no different,” McDavid told The Associated Press. “I’m trying to keep the details where they need to be, and that way when it comes camp it’s not just a light switch.”

McDavid is widely considered the best player in the world but at 24 he said he feels he is just entering his prime. Last season he put up 21 more points than the next-closest player — teammate Leon Draisaitl — and had the best faceoff percentage of his career, yet there’s still room to improve.

After another early playoff exit, the 2015 No. 1 pick said he thinks the the root of a deeper run is better play without the puck and in his own end. It’s not easy to practice in summer skates that are more like shinny than postseason hockey, but McDavid has taken it upon himself to try.

“It’s lots of battle drills, lots of little 1-on-1 things, scrimmage stuff — just trying to stop on pucks, get into some battles and really focus on that,” he said. “For me that’s always kind of where the defensive game slips is when I’m not dialed into those details and stopping on pucks and supporting guys and doing all that.”

According to analytics data, McDavid ranks 100% offensively at even strength and 66% on the defensive end. Still, he said, “There’s always different things you can do offensively” — so don’t think McDavid is satisfied with putting up 1.875 points a game, a mark only 21 players in the NHL’s modern era have topped.

McDavid has been through this before after winning the Hart Trophy in 2017. Even after leading the league in scoring the following year, he knows more about himself and the details to improve on than four years ago.

“Back then, just being so young you just kind of do the same type of thing and just go out and think it’s going to be the same for you,” McDavid said. “Heading into my seventh year, you realize that you’ve always got to be building on your game, growing your game and working on a full, 200-foot game. …

“It takes some growing up to kind of realize that. I’ve definitely gone through that process.”

McDavid has also gone through the process of losing in the playoffs — or not making it at all. From Steve Yzerman to Alex Ovechkin, history is full of young star captains whose teams couldn’t get it done in the postseason before breaking through, and McDavid is conscious of the fact that the time to get over the hump should be sooner than later.

“Everyone individually kind of understands what it takes to win the playoffs, but I think collectively just to understand how hard it is to win in the playoffs, how every little detail matters, every little play,” he said. “These are all lessons that we’ve had to go through and we’ve obviously gone through them probably a little slower than we should have, but we’re definitely getting there.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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