When looking at the Edmonton Oilers, it's not hard to notice Connor McDavid.
The 19-year-old was picked No. 1 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft and is in his second season in the Alberta capital and his first as team captain, taking the reigns from the Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog as the youngest player in league history to wear the 'C.' He's also picked up where he left off last year when he recorded 48 points while playing in only 45 games because of injury.
Six weeks into the 2016-17 campaign, McDavid leads the NHL with 24 points and 16 assists.
"Obviously, we have to pay attention to him and know where he is on the ice at all times," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar." He's a dangerous guy, producing for them. Can't give him any chances on the power play because they become even more dangerous. That's a tough task for any team."
McDavid's play is a big reason why the Oilers lead the Pacific Division with an 11-8-1 record and are coming off two big wins against some of the Central Division's best squads. McDavid had his first career hat trick in a 5-2 win at the Dallas Stars last Saturday and then recorded two assists in a 5-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.
Avalanche forward Rene Bourque said limiting McDavid's chances of using his speed to bring the puck into the offensive zone will be key in tonight's matchup at Pepsi Center.
"He can skate like the wind. You just want to be tight checking on him and not give him a lot of room out there," Bourque said. "He likes to wind it up big behind the net or in his own zone where he comes up with speed, and he's hard to stop when he's at full speed. Just want to take away his time and space."
Colorado will have the last change before faceoffs this evening since it is the home team, and it appears as if the club will use it to try and get a favorable matchup against McDavid.
Bednar said he is going to put Nathan MacKinnon out on the ice against the Edmonton forward, hopefully equaling out the speed and skill.
"We'll see MacKinnon playing against him a lot, so two guys that can skate and push the pace," Bednar said. "And that's what you have to do, you got to take away some time and space on him. Got to get ready to check and be committed. Your puck decisions have to be good as well. You can't turn pucks over against dangerous guys on any team, especially against a guy like Connor McDavid."
Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference
MacKinnon is starting to find the scoresheet more regularly, as he's picked up points in each of his last three contests (two goals and three assists in total) and is dictating the flow of the game with his play. He leads the Avs in scoring with 13 points (four goals and nine assists).
The 21-year-old will once again center the team's top line with 20-year-old Mikko Rantanen, but the duo will have a new winger in Bourque after playing with Andreas Martinsen at the end of the trip.
Bourque ranks second on the Avs with five goals and has become a fixture for the team in the front of the net.
"I think they just want me to get on the forecheck and get more loose pucks for them," Bourque said of playing with the two young forwards. "They are the guys that I want the puck in their hands, and I want to go to the net. I want to give them the puck and let them make the plays. They're very highly skilled, both of them, and they can make plays and they can find me in front of the net or wherever it may be."
Video: Rene Bourque on playing with the top line
Colorado is looking for its first three-game win streak of the season and to get back to above .500 record for the first time since late October. The Avs went 3-1-0 last week with come-from-behind wins at Minnesota and Columbus, and they probably should have won Thursday's contest in Dallas after outshooting the Stars 30-16 in the final two periods.
"Obviously, we haven't found a way to score first in too many games, but the team responded well in the second and third periods and have kind of stuck to what we want to do and actually improve on what we want to do late in games," Bednar said. "That's a positive sign. Now we just have to find a way to start better."
A good start and shutting down McDavid would be gravy for the Avalanche ahead of a day off on Thursday for American Thanksgiving.
Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog is celebrating his 24th birthday today, but he won't be in the lineup for tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Landeskog will miss his fourth consecutive contest with a lower-body injury, which occurred on Nov. 15 in a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. He finished that game and even scored an empty-net goal late to seal the win, but he did not travel with the club on its recent three-game road trip.
However, there was a little good news out of morning skate as Landeskog skated by himself before the team practice and could possibly return as early as Saturday for the Avs' contest against the Vancouver Canucks.
"He skated this morning on his own," Bednar said. "He's going to skate tomorrow morning too on his own again, and then we'll see where he is at Friday--just to see how far he's progressing and if he is going to be a possible player for us on Saturday."
The Colorado captain has recorded eight points (four goals and four assists) in 15 contests this season.
OTHER LINEUP NOTES
Joe Colborne will be back in the Avalanche's lineup after a one-game absence as a healthy scratch. He'll center the fourth line with Cody McLeod and Andreas Martinsen.
Forward Mikhail Grigorenko will be scratched for the first time this season, while defenseman Eric Gelinas also won't play.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will make his second consecutive start in net.
Mikko Rantanen - Nathan MacKinnon - Rene Bourque
AJ Greer - Carl Soderberg - Matt Duchene
Blake Comeau - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod - Joe Colborne - Andreas Martinsen
Fedor Tyutin - Erik Johnson
Patrick Wiercioch - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Francois Beauchemin