FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A few days removed from a relaxing day on the beach in the South Florida heat, Connor McDavid looks cool and unfazed approaching a milestone moment in his hockey career.
On Friday night at the NHL draft, McDavid will put on an Edmonton Oilers sweater for the first time. It’s the realization of a lifelong dream that doesn’t seem too big a moment for the 18-year-old who’s considered a generational talent.
“It’s going to be a dream come true hearing your name called and going up on the stage,” McDavid said Thursday. “I can’t really say how I’m going to be feeling. It’s going to be an emotional day and an exciting day and I’m just looking forward to celebrating it with my family and friends.”
McDavid to the Oilers has been a done deal since the lottery balls came up in their favour April 18. General manager Peter Chiarelli with his tongue firmly in his cheek talked about McDavid “if” the Oilers draft him, but with a wink and a nudge acknowledged the inevitable.
“I’m not going to make any proclamations let’s leave it at that,” Chiarelli told reporters in Edmonton this week. “But I think you guys can figure it out.”
McDavid has played along with the charade all along, too, but the Erie Otters centre has also done his due diligence. He and his family visited Edmonton and got a tour of Rexall Place and the new Rogers Arena while meeting with Oilers brass last week.
Naturally, McDavid saw his name written over the “Connor Road” sign in town, and the humble superstar almost blushed at it.
“It’s very flattering,” McDavid said. “If it is Edmonton, I appreciate it very much, the support and the welcoming.”
It’s more when than if, but McDavid doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He doesn’t mind if others do that, though.
With hockey people comparing McDavid to Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, it’s almost to the point where the expectations are too big too fast for him. The Newmarket, Ont., native brushes off the comparisons, but he won’t blame anyone for making them.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel about it,” McDavid said. “All I can do is do the best that I can and try and be the best player that I can be. Whether that meets expectations or not, that’s not up to me to decide.
“I’m Connor and that’s just how I play.”
The way McDavid plays is what made him the mortal-lock first-overall pick, ahead of Jack Eichel to the Buffalo Sabres. In what could be the best draft class since 2003, McDavid’s good friend and teammate Dylan Strome, Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin and others will follow.
But the spotlight will be on McDavid Friday night, just as it will be as he embarks on his NHL career. With the expectations set to only rise with time, he’s ready.
“I think if you’re going to be good that’s the way it has to be: You have to have high expectations for yourself,” McDavid said. “But there’s a lot of pressure on me coming from the outside that I try not to put too much internal pressure on myself just because there’s already enough of that out there.”
Chiarelli beamed at the chance to announce McDavid’s name at BB&T Center in Sunrise and then adding him to Edmonton’s young core.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Chiarelli said. “I’ve heard dimensional, generational all that stuff. (in town) He’s a humble kid but he’s driven.”
While McDavid is a given, the Oilers’ draft debate starts with the 16th pick, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in January for David Perron. Chiarelli said he’d “instinctively” like to keep the pick because he believes the team can get a strong prospect, but with holes to fill at the NHL level he’s open to making a trade.