After missing 37 games as a rookie two seasons ago, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy in 2016-17 with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists), 11 more than Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who finished second in the NHL. Based on projections, McDavid (97 points) will outscore Crosby (88) again this season.
Over the past two seasons, Crosby had 174 points (80 goals, 94 assists) in 155 games, and McDavid had 148 points (46 goals, 102 assists) in 127 games. On a point-per-game basis, McDavid was ahead of Crosby, 1.17 to 1.12. Over 82 games, that works out to 95.6 points for McDavid and 92.1 points for Crosby.
Of course, projecting how McDavid and Crosby each will do in 2017-18 isn't as simple as assuming his scoring rate will continue as it has. There are three factors that need to be considered when establishing scoring projections: age, usage and coaching.
Video: Connor McDavid takes the No. 1 spot
McDavid's big advantage over Crosby is that he is 20 years old, the age when the average forward's scoring rate increases by 14 percent over the previous season, based on my calculations going back to the 1967-68 season. Crosby is 30, when a decline of 7.1 percent can be expected.
McDavid and Crosby are not average players. They're already on the top line, getting plenty of ice time and scoring at a very high rate. When considering only players who already were scoring at 1.0 points per game or better, the scoring rate dropped by 2.4 percent for those at age 20 and by 11.9 percent at age 30. When players are near the top of the League, there are more random events that can reduce their scoring than situations that can raise it.
McDavid is not immune to that 2.4 percent drop in scoring. Over his two NHL seasons, the Oilers have scored on 10.4 percent of their shots at 5-on-5 with McDavid on the ice, fifth in the League among forwards who played at least 50 games. There are those who give McDavid all the credit for that result and predict it will continue. However, other highly talented players can't maintain an on-ice shooting percent anywhere near that level. For example, the Penguins scored on 8.8 percent of their shots with Crosby on the ice the past two seasons.
McDavid will continue to develop his offensive skills, but for someone who had 70 assists last season, a lot of his improvement could be canceled out when the Oilers' shooting percent with him on the ice starts to drop. That lowers his expectations from 1.22 points per game in 2016-17 to 1.19 this season, which works out to 97.6 points over 82 games.
How the players are used is an equally important factor. Getting a lot more ice time at even strength and on the power play, especially in the offensive zone with offensively talented linemates and without the defensive responsibility of shutting down top opponents, can greatly boost a player's scoring. This has been observed with previous Art Ross Trophy winners, like Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks in 2009-10 and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16.
Video: Sidney Crosby lands the No. 2 spot
Such a transition is unlikely in either player's case because each already is his team's top option. Over the past two seasons, McDavid leads Oilers forwards with an average of 16:31 minutes per game at even strength and 3:00 on the power play. Crosby's totals of 16:15 and 3:39 place him first among Pittsburgh forwards at even strength and second to center Evgeni Malkin (3:44) on the power play.
Though McDavid and Crosby are offensive players, they are expected to play balanced minutes against top-six opponents in both zones. McDavid has started 53.53 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone, fifth among the 18 Edmonton forwards to play at least 50 games over the past two seasons. For Crosby, it's 57.75 percent, fifth among 13 Pittsburgh forwards.
Rather than deploy McDavid and Crosby with his team's top offensive players, their respective coaches stretch the lineup by playing them with young, developing players and/or secondary scorers. That allows the coaches to construct a strong second-line scoring threat with the balance of the team's top players. As such, McDavid is projected to play with Patrick Maroon and Ryan Strome this season, and Crosby is projected to continue playing with Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel.
One final wrinkle is the coaching factor. Thus far, these calculations have been based on the past two seasons and are heavily tilted in McDavid's favor. However, Crosby has been in peak form since Mike Sullivan was hired as Pittsburgh's coach on Dec. 12, 2015.
When only data from that point forward is considered, Crosby's scoring rate of 1.22 points per game is slightly higher than McDavid's 1.19. Even when adjusted down 11.9 percent due to his age, that still puts Crosby at 1.08 points per game, or 88.2 points in 82 games.