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Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews still chasing Sidney Crosby for top spot

Oilers center, Maple Leafs rookie pursuing Penguins captain as NHL's best player

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are chasing a legend who is still in the prime of his career, still winning Stanley Cup championships, still proving nobody is better.

To catch Sidney Crosby for the unofficial title of best in the world, McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers' 20-year-old captain, and Matthews, the Toronto Maple Leafs' 19-year-old rookie center, figure the best thing they can do is watch and dissect Crosby's every move.

"He just finds a way to get it done," McDavid said of Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy winner. "He finds a way to win. You can definitely watch and take some notes, some mental pointers on things he's doing. Every situation is different, but when you win two Cups back-to-back and you win two Conn Smythes back-to-back, you're doing something right."


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McDavid is in Crosby's company this week; they're finalists for the Hart Trophy, given to the player judged most valuable to his team. Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is also a finalist. Crosby already is a two-time winner.

Matthews is here too, hoping to win the Calder Trophy, given to the League's best rookie. He's a finalist with Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine and Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. If Matthews wins, he'll have one bragging right over Crosby and McDavid.

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm5: McDavid bats in PPG out of mid-air

They never won the Calder Trophy.

"I don't really try to compare myself to anybody," Matthews said.

McDavid said the same thing when asked specifically if he compares himself to Crosby and/or Matthews.

"The media does a lot of that for us," McDavid said.

But the thing is both of them, McDavid and Matthews, are trying to live up to the expectation placed on them to try to be the next Crosby. It's a daunting and perhaps unfair challenge, but if they didn't think it was reality, they wouldn't pay as close attention to Crosby as they do.

"He's very professional the way he goes about everything on and off the ice," Matthews said.

McDavid, for example, said he watches how Crosby handles himself in front of the media.

"He never really steps out of line. He never says anything to stir the pot or anything. I think that's hard sometimes," McDavid said. "You're emotional. The media comes in two minutes after a game, two minutes after an overtime game, two minutes after a Game 7 loss. You guys are in there right away and emotions are running high. Sometimes that can be difficult, but you never really see him do anything stupid or bad."

Matthews said he's had conversations with Crosby about how fast his career has gone to date. It's another mental note he's taken, to appreciate where he is now because soon he could be the veteran player that younger players look up to.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Matthews roofs gorgeous wrist shot

"This was his [12th] year in the League and it seems like yesterday he was a rookie," Matthews said. "He's obviously the best player in the world for a reason."


Matthews has an answer, of course. He's watched Crosby enough to be confident in it too.

"His determination," Matthews said. "He just hates to lose. That's why he's won three Stanley Cups now. Guys like him, [Jonathan] Toews, [Evgeni] Malkin, [Anze] Kopitar, they have those similar characteristics, but a guy like Crosby can separate from the pack."

McDavid and Matthews can do the same.

McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy this season as the League's leading scorer with 100 points, 11 more than Crosby in seven more games. He helped get the Oilers into the Western Conference Second Round after they hadn't made the playoffs since 2006 and finished 29th in the League with 70 points in the 2015-16 season.

They raised eyebrows with their success this season. Expectations will be raised next season.

"You see those early Vegas odds to win the Cup and we're right there in the top five in most of them," McDavid said. "That hasn't happened [in Edmonton] in a long, long, long, long, long, long time."

Matthews led all rookies with 69 points, putting him tied for 20th in the League in scoring. He helped get the Maple Leafs into the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they finished last with 69 points in the 2015-16 season.

"I knew he was good, I just didn't know how good and every day," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "And I didn't know that the lulls would be as short as they were. Sometimes the scoring, it goes away a little bit, for me that's not what I measure. Do you compete every night? Do you do good things every night? Do you help your team win every night? For me, he's exceeded that way for sure."

Crosby did the same thing when he was getting started more than a decade ago. Now he's a month-and-a-half shy of his 30th birthday and he has become one of the most decorated players in the history of the game by constantly pushing to improve, to be better next year.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm6: Crosby receives Conn Smythe Trophy

That's the biggest challenge McDavid and Matthews face now. They have to be better next year.

Again, they can take their cues from Crosby, who had 102 points on a bad team in his rookie season, helped the Penguins make the playoffs in his second season, reach the Stanley Cup Final in his third season and win the Stanley Cup in his fourth season.

"Yeah, not a bad guy to follow around and get to know," Matthews said, smiling.

So they do. They watch. They analyze.

Crosby is still winning the race, but for how much longer depends on how much McDavid and Matthews are able to take from his success.

"I've got to try to figure out what it is he's doing," McDavid said.

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