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Oilers' McDavid more confident after solid first month

by Derek Van Diest /

EDMONTON -- After a slow start, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid had a productive first month in the NHL, and on Monday he was named NHL Rookie of the Month for October.

Entering play Monday he leads all first-year players with 12 points, and his five goals are tied for the lead.

McDavid led a deep class of rookie performers in the first month of the season. Arizona Coyotes left wing Max Domi matched McDavid with five goals and is second among rookies with 11 points. Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin had 10 points in 11 games and Winnipeg Jets right wing Nikolaj Ehlers had four goals and eight points in 11 games. The St. Louis Blues' Colton Parayko leads rookie defensemen with four goals and seven points in 11 games. His four goals are tied with the Carolina Hurricanes' Justin Faulk for the lead among all NHL defenders.

McDavid, the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, is second on the Oilers with 12 points, one behind left wing Taylor Hall. Hall has 13 points in 12 games and was named the NHL Third Star of the week Monday.

"I've had some ups and downs, but the first month being the in NHL I think you're going to expect that," McDavid said. "It's definitely been a good ride so far and hopefully it keeps going."

McDavid had one goal in his first four games, then had a breakout performance in a 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 17, with two goals and an assist.

It was the start of a seven-game point streak for McDavid, which ended Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the Flames.

"His game has matured already," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "For an 18-year-old you don't think it's going to advance that quick. But his game has matured in a lot of different areas. He went from being a player to a catalyst on our team and I think that's real important. He energized a lot of individuals. He began to understand the parameters of what was going on, system-wise and opponent-wise, what you can get away with and what you can't get away with. There has been a lot of improvement, and not just skill-wise but the mental aspect of what can or can't happen on the ice."

McDavid spent the past three seasons with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, and had 97 goals and 285 points in 166 games.

He is considered a generational talent and the best player to enter the NHL since Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby entered in 2005. Coincidentally, Crosby was named rookie of the month in his first month in the League.

McDavid scored the game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 21 and set up two third-period goals in a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 29.

"I think I just feel more confident on what to expect going into a game now," McDavid said. "You don't know what you don't know. I've never played in a game before so I didn’t know what to expect going into [NHL] games. Now you get a better sense of the tempo or the physicality of the game. I think just the overall comfort level, that's the difference."

McDavid said he did not have any expectations in regards to point totals going into the season. He just wanted to be a valuable player, trusted to be utilized in any situation on the ice.

It is something McDavid already has been able to accomplish.

"I feel good about putting him on the ice in any situation, in any given moment," McLellan said. "He's 18, and as the year goes on there'll be ups and downs and things like that. We're trying to give him every opportunity to improve. But I feel good about playing him. You name the situation and I feel good about putting him out there. I think mentally he can play in any situation at any given moment. Physically he's going to get better as he gets stronger."

McDavid's second month of the season begins Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. He and the Oilers then host Crosby and the Penguins on Friday.

"There are still some things where I can improve on," McDavid said. "Obviously faceoffs [36.2 percent], I think that's an area that a lot of younger players in the League struggle with it. Certainly I'm struggling with and am trying to get a better handle for it. You can always be better in your own zone as well. That's something that's so important in today's game, and being able to earn your coach's trust. I think I've been doing an OK job of that. But you can't get away from that at all."

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