Thanks to his exceptional speed, it feels like Connor McDavid has a head start on anyone he’s skating against in the NHL. But before he even played a minute as a pro, McDavid said he wanted a head start against the competition off the ice through his training.
That included his diet. McDavid started working with former NHL player Gary Roberts and his training team three years before his rookie season in 2015-16, getting a better sense of what was right for his body from a nutrition and hydration standpoint.
“You know how passionate they are about nutrition and everything like that,” McDavid told ESPN. “So I already had a good dose of that before coming to the NHL. I knew it was super important.”
All of that training and nutrition has paid off, as McDavid is one of the world’s best players, and his Oilers are on a 16-game winning streak.
We caught up with the Edmonton Oilers star this week ahead of NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto, an event he has certainly put his stamp on this season. McDavid worked with the NHL to help bring Friday night’s skills competition back to its “hockey roots.” He’s also captaining one of the four teams in Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game.
Here’s the reigning NHL MVP on the red-hot Oilers proving doubters wrong, whether they should have fired Jay Woodcroft, potential rules changes for video reviews and overtime, and his favorite non-hockey athlete to watch.
Note: The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
The NHL All-Star Weekend is here and you’re a big part of it. How much did you enjoy helping to revamp the skills competition, especially knowing that the event is in Toronto near where you grew up?
McDavid: Well, I think after last year everyone maybe knew there needed to be a change. I thought it just got a little bit out of hand on some of the gimmicky things. We were missing the essence of what an All-Star Game is, and that’s to showcase the talent of the athletes, the hockey players and the skills that we have, because they are unique.
So I’m excited that you’re going see some more … I’ll say “normal” events, which is something that I think players are excited about. Having 12 of the best players in the world go at it for [the] crown is exciting. It’s a unique opportunity and something that I hope the fans enjoy.
Plus, you saved a bunch of NHL players from having to go into a dunk tank in Toronto in February, which is pretty noble of you.
McDavid: Yeah, it’s not easy to dunk someone when it’s iced over.
You and Oilers teammate Leon Draisaitl are captains of one of the All-Star squads. Have you discussed draft strategy yet?
McDavid: We haven’t. I’m hoping that [celebrity captain] Will Arnett knows hockey. I think we’ll hand over the draft card to him and let him do his thing.
As we speak, the Oilers are on a massive winning streak. Is there some level of satisfaction in proving those critics wrong who wrote off your team or called you overrated after the slow start?
McDavid: I think when you’re last place in NHL just six weeks into the season, people call you everything under the sun. So it’s rewarding for our group that we’ve stuck together and we’ve kind of dug ourselves out of that.
Our group has oddly gotten comfortable doing that. I think back of the past two seasons, we’ve kind of had those stretches, I think back to the 2021-22 season: We can’t win a game for six weeks and ultimately bring in [coach Jay Woodcroft] and go on a great run and make some noise in the playoffs. We were kind of a bubble playoff team last year until we traded for Mattias Ekholm and go on this amazing run.
So we’re ultimately a little bit used to some of that noise, that negativity that comes from the media sometimes. But we have stuck together in there through it all and it feels good to just to be back in the mix of things coming down here in the second half.
You mentioned Jay Woodcroft. When he was fired earlier this year, you said ‘a good man lost his job.’ You can never know when these streaks are gonna happen. You never know why they don’t happen for certain coaches. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think this kind of streak could have happened under Jay, or did a change have to be made?
McDavid: That’s a great question. I think that there were a lot of a lot of things that were going on when we had Jay that were … I wasn’t playing very well. So when his best player’s not playing very well, you’re gonna struggle. Our goaltending wasn’t great. The penalty kill was struggling. We couldn’t keep pucks out of our net. That’s not a lot of things to do with the coaching staff.
I always say you can feel when things are starting to turn. We could feel that things were turning and our game was getting there. Ultimately, they have. It’s too bad that Woody lost his job because we all really did care for him. He’s a great person and a great coach. He’ll land on his feet somewhere for sure in the NHL.
With all that being said, I think Kris [Knoblauch] has come in and done an amazing job. He’s got a great hockey mind. He’s super smart. He’s different than the other coaches I’ve had in years past — he’s not maybe your typical hockey guy. He is not old school or anything like that. So he is definitely a fresh voice.
Earlier this year, you talked about that offside review that happened in your game against Chicago and how long it took to make a call. It became kind of a big story around the league. You said that ‘the guys just want clarity on the rules.’ One of the things that I think would give it clarity is if we just got rid of offside in the video review process — if we just didn’t make it reviewable anymore. Is that something you’d be in favor of doing?
McDavid: Something interesting would be putting a time limit on the review. If you can’t tell it’s offside within a minute, it probably doesn’t really matter — or 30 seconds or whatever. When we’re zooming in and zooming in and you zoom in until you can’t zoom in any longer, it’s probably not a huge deal.
What’s actually funny about that is the next night I scored that goal in Detroit and we got back to the bench and we’re like, “We don’t even know if it’s onside or not.” So they were trying to challenge. They didn’t know what the rule was. Ultimately, they didn’t even challenge, but you know, it’s kind of funny how I made those comments and the next night it was actually went in our favor. So we’ll take that.
Speaking of rules and clocks: I covered the GM meetings recently and they talked about some potential changes to the 3-on-3 overtime, trying to discourage teams from slowing down the pace. Obviously, the Oilers have been a very exciting 3-on-3 team with you through the years. What did you think about them trying to tweak the overtime rules a little bit?
McDavid: I like it. Again, within reason. I just don’t want it to be too gimmicky or anything like that, or hard to understand for fans or for players. But if there’s something that’s clear and obvious and that makes sense to everybody, to improve the game is a great thing. I’m all for improving overtime. If that’s a [shot] clock, great. If not, then, it is what it is.
Who is your current favorite non-hockey athlete to watch?
My favorite current non-hockey athlete … I’m gonna go with a fellow Body Armor guy in Christian McCaffrey right now [McDavid has also partnered with sports drink Body Armor]. Going to the Super Bowl. The guy’s on fire. He had an absolutely amazing year. I was watching the game the other day. He scored a touchdown and the announcer said, “Death, taxes and Christian McCaffrey scoring a touchdown are the only guarantees.”
And that’s what it feels like right now with him. He is unstoppable. You give him the ball enough times, he’s gonna break it loose.
It’s kind of weird hearing Connor McDavid talk about another athlete’s inevitability. I mean, that’s what we talk about with you all the time.
McDavid: In some years, yeah.
Finally, you’re a very busy guy. You got the Oilers, you’ve got the promotional thing and the endorsement thing, and the being Connor McDavid thing. The people want to know: What is your role in wedding planning ahead of your nuptials in July with your fiancée, Lauren Kyle? What is Connor McDavid responsible for in setting up this wedding?
McDavid: Connor McDavid is responsible for getting his guys dressed and down the aisle. That is all. We took care of that this morning. Had a call this morning with the guys that’ll be dressing us up. So my job is done. Now I just gotta worry about getting ’em down [the aisle].
No cake tasting? No editing the DJ’s playlist?
McDavid: No, that’s pretty much all I’ve been assigned. Which is good.