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McDavid’s sophomore season may top Crosby as best in recent memory

Takeaways: A weekly spin around the NHL

As far as sophomore seasons go, Sidney Crosby had one of the best the league had ever seen.

Crosby racked up 120 points in 79 games during his second season with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2006-07), the sixth-highest total for a sophomore in history — trailing only Wayne Gretzky (164), Mario Lemieux (141), Peter Stastny (139), Kent Nilsson (131), and Mike Bossy (126).

There’s a case to be made that Connor McDavid’s current second-year campaign with the Edmonton Oilers has been as good and maybe even better than Crosby’s, and it comes down to the way he’s generated offence.

McDavid, in short, is doing almost all his damage at even-strength. His 68 even-strength points lead the NHL and account for an outrageous 72 per cent of his total production.

Crosby, by contrast, scored less than half of his 120 points at even-strength, generating 61 points on the power play. At that point in the NHL — shortly after rule changes implemented after the 2004-05 lockout — penalties and power plays were booming.

Most of the highest scoring sophomores in the last 20 years were, not coincidentally, fuelled by power-play production:

1. Crosby — 61 power-play points of 120 overall (51 per cent of total)

2. Evgeni Malkin — 40 of 106 (38 per cent)

3. Eric Staal — 40 of 100 (40 per cent) 

4. Steven Stamkos — 41 of 95 (43 per cent)

5. Alex Ovechkin — 37 of 92 (40 per cent)

McDavid, on pace for about 99 points, has generated just 26 per cent of his offence with the man advantage (24 of 94).

Suffice to say it’s more difficult to generate offence when the sides are evenly matched, and McDavid is also producing in an era where there are fewer goals and power plays and better goaltending.

And so while it might not top Crosby in pure production as the best second-year season in recent memory, it’s pretty close in quality.

UNLIKELY THREATS

Scoring is up a touch in the NHL this season. Here are a few big-time goal-scoring threats that might surprise you:

Paul Byron — Montreal: Over the first 200 games of his NHL career — split between Buffalo and Calgary — Byron took only 177 shots and scored 28 times. He’s got 22 markers heading into Monday’s play, with a spike in shots and the league’s second-highest shooting percentage (23.4) fuelling the run.

Viktor Arvidsson — Nashville: The Predators speedster and 114th overall pick of the 2014 draft might just crack 30, already with 29 goals in his second full NHL season. Unlike Byron, this doesn’t appear to be some shooting percentage-driven blip; the 23-year-old is shooting 12 per cent on 240 shots — potting five shorthanded, another four on the power play and 20 at even-strength.

Conor Sheary — Pittsburgh: An unlikely post-season hero for the reigning Stanley Cup champions last spring, Sheary (when healthy) has kept rising alongside Crosby  this season. The undrafted 24-year-old has scored a career-high 22, all but a pair coming at even-strength.

Jonathan Marchessault — Florida: Another undrafted product, Marchessault showed potential as a scoring threat in earlier stops — NHL and otherwise — but 29 goals heading into Monday’s game against Montreal is obviously a pleasant surprise.

Richard Panik — Chicago: Panik flashed some skill in earlier stops with Tampa and Toronto, but he’s leaped like even the Blackhawks probably couldn’t have imagined, scoring 22 goals while playing mostly alongside captain Jonathan Toews.

Patrick Eaves — Dallas/Anaheim: Eaves came into the year with a career-high of 20 goals — a mark he managed as a rookie for Ottawa — never eclipsing 14 in the previous 10 seasons. But the 32-year-old has struck gold this season, notching 30 for the Stars and Ducks on a career-best of more than 200 shots. 

TWO HALVES

The Vezina trophy favourite in the first half, Devan Dubnyk has cooled off considerably for a Minnesota Wild squad that’s also — not coincidentally — fallen off.

Dubnyk before the all-star break: .936 save percentage, .944 even-strength save percentage, five shutouts

Dubnyk after the all-star break: .904 save percentage, .906 even-strength save percentage, zero shutouts

BURNS FOR 30

Speaking of cooling off, one-time Norris trophy lock Brent Burns has dropped off his historic pace.

The 32-year-old finished March with only a single goal and six assists in 16 games, his candidacy for the top defenceman award losing steam with Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman both surging into contention. Burns needs only two goals in the final three games though to become only the third defenceman since 1990 to score 30 — joining Kevin Hatcher (34) in 1992-93 and Mike Green (31) in 2008-09.

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press

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