Nathan MacKinnon plays down clash with Connor McDavid, calls Edmonton Oilers star ‘the best’

DENVER — All eyes will be on Colorado’s superstar Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid when the NHL’s Western Conference Finals open with Game 1 on Tuesday.

At least, that’s what MacKinnon hopes. But that has nothing to do with beating McDavid.

“Let’s hope that [storyline] gets more viewers and reduces escrow [for players]but other than that, I don’t care,” MacKinnon said Monday. “I don’t really think about [McDavid] a lot, but obviously I see this stuff. I think he’s the best, I said. I think he’s been the best for a little while now and it’s going to take a whole team effort to stop him.”

MacKinnon’s cheeky comment — a reference to the NHL’s revenue-sharing structure where more money comes in for the league means less revenue from player salaries — at least addressed McDavid head-on.

Asked about MacKinnon in turn, the Oilers captain avoided mentioning it all together.

“They’re a good team there,” McDavid said. “I’ve learned that over the past two years. This year is no different. They’ve got some really good players and they’re really good all around.”

It was a valiant effort by both players, but no amount of minimization will remove the pending “wow” factor.

It’s rare for two powerhouse offensive teams like the Avalanche and Oilers to meet in the latter rounds of the playoffs, when they also pace the playoff field in goals-per-game average (4.33 for the Avalanche). , 4.30 for the Oilers).

Top-notch performances from top players like MacKinnon and Cale Makar in Colorado and McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton are essential for this scoring momentum to continue, as all four have been terrific in the postseason so far.

McDavid and Draisaitl carried the Oilers ahead as they tied for the team lead with 26 points; MacKinnon and Makar are tied for the Avalanche lead with 13 points each.

Makar is solidified as the Avalanche anchor at fullback and will see a lot of McDavid in the upcoming series. The Norris Trophy finalist also faces MacKinnon in practice. He knows that the challenge each player presents on the ice is unique.

“There are a lot of similarities between MacKinnon and McDavid,” Makar said. “But at the same time they are very different styles of play. McDavid is very good in the rush and very fast and he has the quick steps from the start. They are both such electric players and McDavid has been the strength driving force for them, along with their other top guys. It will be a good test, but we’re all excited.

What McDavid has produced in the playoffs — including multipoint outings in 10 of the Oilers’ 12 games so far — would be enough to rattle any opposing goaltender. Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper takes on the task head-on.

“It’s a fun challenge for sure,” he said. “He’s an electric, dynamic player. And he creates every time he’s on the ice. Like Cale said, there are similarities between their games but at the same time they’re different players. C “It’s a fun challenge. You want to compete against the best players in the world and I can’t wait to be there.”

And that’s to say nothing of what Draisaitl did with McDavid, including two four-assist performances in Edmonton’s last two games of their second-round series against Calgary.

That’s a lot for any opponent to take. But overall, Colorado is leaning in to slow Edmonton.

“I think we’re just excited,” Makar said. “Obviously it’s a place [in the conference final] that personally I have never been before. But we have a lot of guys on our team who have experience in this area, which is good. So I think we’re just excited to get started. »

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