Ex-Oiler Laraque: Tough teammates open space for McDavid's creativity

by
Patrick Price / Reuters

Georges Laraque knows a thing or two about dropping the gloves.

The former NHL enforcer, who suited up for 695 career games, including an eight-year run with the Edmonton Oilers, still sees value in pugilists, despite resistance from the analytics crowd.

While the hockey fighter is a dying breed, the current Oilers squad, including right-winger Zack Kassian and power forward Milan Lucic, doesn't lack toughness. As Laraque sees it, it's these types of skaters whose aggression and intimidating nature allow skilled players to be at their best.

"Why do you think (Connor) McDavid got 100 points this year? Do you see how much room he's getting?" Laraque told Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED, according to David Staples of the Edmonton Journal. "Yes, there's a little bit of stuff there and there sometimes, but most of the time he was healthy because of that presence."

That wasn't the case during McDavid's rookie season, when he was limited to 45 games following a hit by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning. McDavid suffered a broken clavicle on the play and missed the next 37 games.

But it's not just about the fisticuffs, Laraque continued.

"(The Oilers) had enough toughness that prevent guys to take liberties with those guys," Laraque said. "When (teams) go to Edmonton, with Darnell Nurse, Lucic, (Patrick) Maroon, all those guys there, people don't want to take liberties with those kids because there's a lot of guys (who) can answer the bell.

"And we're not even talking about fighting here. We're talking about a presence that prevents guys from taking cheap shots because they know there would be retribution if they did so."

There's no denying McDavid made the most of his space this season, as he wrapped his sophomore campaign with 30 goals and 70 assists to take home the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as top scorer.