This article is the third in a series on putting Connor McDavid’s 2016-17 NHL season into historical context.
The first article focused on McDavid’s place in Oilers scoring lore — since the writing of that, McDavid has improved one slot to register the 14th best offensive season in team history (9 of those were Gretzky, 2 Kurri, while Coffey and Messier’s peak single season outputs now just baaaarely nose ahead of McDavid’s final tally).
The second article tried to put McDavid’s season into overall NHL post-war context, finding that he was putting up the 228th best season in league history. With his late season push, McDavid’s 2016-17 now improves to the 173rd most impressive in history, as seen below:
So what’s this %ATO thing I’m using to judge seasons? Basically it’s just:
%ATO = a player’s points per game in a season / the average NHL team’s goals per game that season
Essentially, it’s a quick way to contrast how many of the average team’s goals a player would have gotten a point on. It’s just one way to era-adjust numbers and I find it easiest to grasp.
Today, I want to concentrate on putting McDavid’s season into context for his age. I am assuming he’s playing his 20-year-old season, using Hockey Reference’s preferred threshold of February 1st for birthdays, with McDavid’s coming just a couple of weeks before this threshold, otherwise he would have registered a 19-year-old season.
Let’s cut to the chase — where does McDavid rank in terms of post-WWII offensive seasons? Let’s look at the top 25:
McDavid’s 2016-17 season ranks as the 6th best by a 20 year old in history. Four of the fellows ahead of him you may have heard of: Gretzky, Crosby, Lindros, and Mario Lemieux. The other, well, let’s just say he rode one of the better offensive tidal waves in history (ie Lemieux’s 1988-89 199 point season).
You’ll notice his score places him above other very notable NHLers: Ovechkin, Stamkos, Sakic, Kopitar, Dionne, Orr, Jagr, even Taylor Hall!
Looking at this table got me thinking about how McDavid’s 19 and 20 year old seasons compared to all-time great players, and then what those players did at 21 to see what his trajectory might be next season.
I could look at this chart for 5 hours. Firstly, we see McDavid at 19 only below Gretzky and Crosby. At 20, Lindros and Lemieux have just snuck ahead of him. This cohort of players all stayed very high in their 21 year old seasons, suggesting that McDavid will likely see his scoring remain consistent or increase slightly next year (Gretzky’s skyrocketed at 21, his famous 1981-82 season). Bobby Orr and Trottier also saw explosions at age 21 to join this elite grouping of players.
The other all-time great offensive players on this graph — including Jagr, Sakic, Howe, Bobby Hull — had much more moderately-scoring early years in the NHL. Howe and Jagr didn’t really start taking off until age 22. Sakic and Bobby Hull were 25 when they put up their first HHOF-worthy seasons.
Scoring this much this young is a huge tell that McDavid is on track to have an all-time great NHL career.
Of course, Crosby on this graph trended down, not exploding again until between the ages of 23 and 25 with some of the best in NHL history. Crosby had some injury issues that prevented him from claiming his rightful scoring titles and Hart Trophies, lost forever to hockey history.
McDavid’s challenge will become how he maintains good health enough to rival the greats. In the end, it’s not how talented you are that makes you great, it’s displaying that talent consistently. Considering what he’s done to date, I’d say he’s on the right track.