TORONTO — Connor McDavid is finally playing with his Edmonton Oilers teammates — well, two of them.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft joined Oilers teammates Taylor Hall and Darnell Nurse on Monday at a practice for a pre-season mini-tournament in midtown Toronto. It was the first time future linemates Hall and McDavid skated together, and the young centre’s skills were immediately apparent to the Edmonton left-winger.
“He’s got a lot of foot speed,” said Hall. “He seems to glide faster than most guys skate in full speed. It’s fun to be out here with him. Fun to hang around him and hopefully make him feel more comfortable for what he’s got in store.”
McDavid was taken first overall by the Oilers on June 26 after dominating the Ontario Hockey League. He scored 44 goals and added 76 assists during the regular season for the Erie Otters despite missing time with a broken hand. McDavid was even better in the playoffs, averaging more than two points a game with 21 goals and 28 assists in 20 games.
Like Hall, McDavid was impressed by his new teammate’s speed.
“It’s very exciting to play with him,” McDavid said. “Obviously, he’s a great player and I got a better sense of how fast he is. You watch him on TV but it’s a whole different story live.”
Although Hall was the top selection at the 2010 NHL Draft, he says there’s no comparing his experience with that of the highly touted McDavid.
“He’s been through so much already with all the hype that he’s had to endure,” said Hall. “I wasn’t anywhere close to that. I was the first overall pick but at the same time it wasn’t anything like what Connor’s experiencing.
“Our job in Edmonton is not only to play well with him but make sure he’s comfortable because that’s going to allow him to play his best.”
McDavid will have a familiar face on the Oilers in Nurse, a former junior rival.
Nurse and McDavid often tangled with each other in the OHL. Nurse, a defenceman with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, had a physical Western Conference final against McDavid’s Otters, with Erie eventually winning in six games.
That old animosity has already been set aside this summer, with the defenceman and centre hitting it off at the pre-season tournament.
“We were sitting beside each other in the room in there and we were laughing and having good times,” said Nurse. “It’s a lot more fun than going into a corner and trying to cross check him and run him through the boards.”
Hall isn’t worried about how McDavid will fit in with the Oilers or how Edmonton’s forward lines will shake out.
“It takes a little bit of time to get chemistry and stuff,” said Hall. “The one thing about Edmonton is we’ve always had some pretty good forward depth especially in our top six. With Connor coming in that doesn’t change. Whoever I’m playing with whether it’s Connor or Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) or Jordan (Eberle) there’s going to be some special players and hopefully we can have some fun this year.”
McDavid has spent most of the summer training with former NHL player and strength and conditioning guru Gary Roberts, improving his fitness and getting bigger for the more physical professional game.
“Everyone’s bigger, stronger, faster,” said McDavid. “I think everything’s just elevated a lot. Just getting used to that and being a pro.”