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McDavid is Morenz for 21st century, Fischler says

Compares Oilers center to Canadiens Hall of Famer from nine decades ago

by Stan Fischler / Special to

Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," shares his knowledge, humor and insight with readers each Wednesday.

Today, he compares current Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Howie Morenz, a star with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1920s and 1930s who was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017.

Howie Morenz became the face of the NHL while starring for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1920s and 1930s. His speed and skill thrilled fans around the League.

More than 90 years later, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is that same kind of player -- a Morenz for the 21st century, so to speak. McDavid's speed and skill have been bringing fans out of their seats since he entered the NHL at the start of the 2015-16 season.

"No question," wrote Matt Larkin, a columnist for The Hockey News, "McDavid is the dominant offensive force today."

Much like McDavid now, Morenz didn't need long to capture the imagination of writers in his era such as Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald.

Video: PHI@EDM: McDavid beats defender, tucks puck home

"When Howie skated full speed," Ferguson wrote, "everyone else on the ice seemed to be skating backwards."

Morenz was the key player in selling NHL hockey to U.S.-based promoters such as Charles Adams in Boston and Tex Rickard, who represented Madison Square Garden in New York. Each was induced to visit the Montreal Forum for a viewing, and in no time at all was overwhelmed by Morenz's version of lightning on ice.

Hall of Famer King Clancy, who spent much of his career trying to shut down Morenz as a defenseman with the Ottawa Senators and later the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a similar reaction.

"Howie could stop on a dime and leave you nine cents change," Clancy said. "He was in a class by himself."

Impressed with Morenz in particular and big-league hockey in general, Adams launched the Boston Bruins in 1924. One year later, Rickard helped place the Americans in New York, then saw to it that the Garden had its own team, the New York Rangers, for the 1926-27 season.

They wanted NHL teams because they were enthralled watching Morenz dazzle with his speed and skill. More than any other NHL player of the 1920s and into the 1930s, Howie was the best salesman the League had.

Video: Howie Morenz was feared for his one-man rushes up ice

After Jack Kent Cooke brought NHL hockey to Los Angeles during the 1967-68 expansion, the Kings owner was asked which player thrilled him the most when he was growing up in Toronto. "Howie Morenz was head and shoulders above any other man who ever played the game," Cooke said during a 1969 interview.

A half-century later, people are saying the same things about McDavid.

In his four seasons, McDavid has won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer twice, as well as the Hart Trophy, voted to the League's most valuable player, in 2016-17 and the Ted Lindsay Award (presented by the NHL Players' Association to the player voted by his peers as the most outstanding during the regular season) in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Morenz played for three Stanley Cup winners with the Canadiens during his 15 NHL seasons and was a three-time Hart Trophy winner. His extraordinary skating enabled him to lead the League in scoring twice and in goals once.

McDavid's reputation also has been built on speed, starting with his rookie season (2015-16) after being the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. By age 21, McDavid had won the NHL scoring championship twice, matching Oilers icon Wayne Gretzky.

Leadership was a forte of Morenz's game. McDavid followed suit in 2016 when at 19 he became the youngest captain in NHL history.

Another similarity is flair. Morenz had an overdose of charisma in his era, and fans today are magnetized by McDavid's enormous appeal. Among his other accomplishments, he's won the NHL's Fastest Skater at each of the past three NHL All-Star Skills, the only player to win the competition three times.

What's fascinating is that at age 22. McDavid sounds a lot like Morenz did when a young Howie said: "I believe I can get much better!"

Which he did. His counterpart of today, McDavid, figures to do likewise.

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