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Oilers’ Connor McDavid is worth price of admission

Dallas Stars' Dan Hamhuis (2) chases Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It may be too soon for Coyotes fans to take a high-minded, appreciate-the-art approach to Edmonton center Connor McDavid when he visits Gila River Arena on Friday for the first time this season. The Coyotes have taken up residence in the garden apartment of the NHL standings again, the guy selected two spots behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft just went back to Erie of the Ontario Hockey League because he is not NHL-ready, and the center position still presents a big problem for this franchise as it dreams of sunnier days.

If you can work past all of that — and we admit that’s a lot to ask — maybe you can come to Glendale and enjoy the early strides of the guy who promises to be the NHL’s next generational player. It may be too soon to talk of McDavid in the same breath as Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, but it won’t be hyperbole for long. McDavid is that good. Health provided, his legacy should be housed in the pantheon of hockey’s truly elite players.

“You get generational players that come along every so often and they become great players; the names everybody knows,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who coached McDavid on Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey in September. “He’s going to be a top player in this league for a long time.”

Production is the easiest measure for fans when gauging a player’s greatness. At age 19, McDavid has 27 points (nine goals) to lead the league through 21 games. His 1.29 points per game are second only to Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (1.36), who missed the first six games of the season with a concussion. McDavid is also fifth among NHL forwards in average ice time per game at 21:01, trailing only Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly, Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angels’ Anze Kopitar.

McDavid has all the tools to become a franchise center by today’s standards. He is 6-foot-1 and will probably add 10 pounds or so to his 190-pound frame as his body matures. Those simple physical stats will allow him to match the strength of the NHL’s prototype No. 1 centers, allowing him to compete with players such as Crosby, Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Mark Scheifele and Tyler Seguin.

McDavid also shows a desire and aptitude for being a 200-foot player; a responsible defensive player who takes as much pride in that facet of his game as his production. There is already a highlight reel’s worth of plays where McDavid backchecks to break up opponents’ scoring chances and set up the Oilers offense.

The most obvious thing you notice when McDavid plays, however, is his raw speed. It’s an ability that can mask so many other deficiencies because of his ability to recover on mistakes, but there is another layer to that speed that hockey insiders have noticed.

“The one thing that sticks out to me is his ability to cause separation with the puck,” NBC’s NHL analyst Ed Olczyk said. “It reminds me a lot of Sid.

“When most guys get the puck, it becomes an anchor. For him and Sid — and Jeff Carter is another guy — with these guys it almost seems like they get faster when they get the puck on their stick. It’s almost like they throttle down. You want to back pressure the hell out of them but that’s not easy when you can’t catch them.”

To Tippett, McDavid’s speed is present whenever he is on the ice; both in the way he plays the game and the way he thinks the game.

“He plays the game at a pace that just separates him from a lot of players, and he plays at that pace with or without the puck,” Tippett said. “It just makes him a very dynamic player.”

When Tippett coached McDavid at the World Cup, he discovered more qualities that will serve him well when he becomes the face of the NHL — qualities that defined the last iconic center to don an Oilers uniform.

“He’s kind of a quiet person; real respectful of the game,” Tippett said. “He’s a very humble kid.”

It’s premature, as some have done, to proclaim McDavid the league’s best player. That distinction still belongs to Crosby. McDavid has work to do to take his entire game to that level, but that is to be expected of a 19-year-old. He’ll get there, however, and the growth process will be well worth the price of admission.

“He’s one of those guys,” TSN game analyst Ray Ferraro said. “If you love hockey, you’ll take the time to watch when he plays.”

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Oilers at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale

TV: FOX Sports Arizona

Radio: ESPN 620 AM

Records: Coyotes 6-10-2. Oilers 12-8-1.

Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out indefinitely. Oilers — RW Iiro Pakarinen (knee), D Mark Fayne (leg), Andrew Ference (hip) and Brandon Davidson (shoulder) are on IR.

Scouting the Oilers: Edmonton has won three straight games to climb back atop the Pacific Division standings with 25 points. … C Connor McDavid has four foals and eight points during this win streak. … The Oilers were tied for fourth in the league in scoring with 65 goals heading into Friday’s games. … Edmonton is a Western Conference-best 7-4-1 on the road.

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