The Future of NHL Stars Looks Bright: How McDavid and Matthews are Shaping the League

In the 2016-2017 NHL season, two serious post-season droughts have come to  a close. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who have not made the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season, have earned a spot in the postseason battle. The other is the Edmonton Oilers, who have not made the playoffs since the 2004-2005 season.

The Maple Leafs had their first winning season since the 2012-2013 abridged season, finishing with 40 wins and clinching the fourth spot in the Atlantic.

The Oilers finished second in the pacific with 47 wins on the season. Much of this can be attributed to the efforts of sophomore phenom Connor McDavid. This season he finished at 100 points with 30 goals and 70 assists, earning him the title of the number one leading scorer for the NHL, as he beat out elite players Patrick Kane and Sydney Crosby by 11 points. As a result, the Oilers are competing for the Stanley Cup for the first time in 12 years.

Auston Matthews did not have quite the season that McDavid had, but the rookie superstar led the Toronto Maple Leafs in goals as well as overall scoring with 69 points. His shocking rookie-year performance helped the Maple Leafs make the playoffs and finish 14th overall with 95 points.

The Maple Leafs have made quite a splash during the first round of the playoffs against the number-one overall super team, the Washington Capitals. Although the Stanley Cup has never made it home to the Capital, Washington is a formidable competitor in the postseason. This year they are the best team in the league with 118 points. To get a sense of how much the Capitals dominate, they scored 81 more goals than all other opponents scored on them this regular season. The Maple Leafs only have an overall plus/minus of nine. However, since the beginning of the series, Toronto has shut down the super team twice, and lead the series 2-1.

The Oilers also face stiff competition. They are competing against the San Jose Sharks, who are seasoned in the postseason as well. The Sharks have made the playoffs 13 times since the 2000-2001 season.

Hockey isn’t a strong link game where an individual player can make a team like they can in the NBA. However, hockey isn’t a weak link game either. The Edmonton Oilers gained dynasty status during the 80’s while wielding the greatest player in the history of hockey, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky led Edmonton to four out of their five total Stanley cup wins before being traded to Los Angeles.

Although it’s not likely that McDavid or Matthews will surpass Gretzky’s achievements, they are clearly having a significant impact on their respective team’s performances. The next generation of players are beginning to make irrelevant teams relevant again.

Not every first overall draft pick can have this type of impact on a team. The Oilers have picked up four out of the last seven first-round draft picks and no longer have two of them. Nail Yakupov was traded to the St. Louis Blues, and Taylor Hall found his way to the New Jersey Devils. McDavid is truly a special player, and arguably the best player in the league right now. If these players can remain healthy over the next few years, they have the potential to shift the dynamics of the league and will surely be exciting to watch throughout the playoffs.