He's the best player to come into the League in the last 30 years, the best to come along since Lemieux and Crosby - Wayne Gretzky
Erie Otters captain Connor McDavid has earned the reputation as a generational talent.
It's a label rarely used by NHL scouts. It's never easy to predict how effective any draft prospect will be once he arrives in the NHL, but McDavid appears to be an exception.
Not only is the forward likely to be the No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, but many believe he is the best prospect since Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby in 2005.
"Is McDavid the best prospect since Sid?" David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting asked. "Yes, because just about everything he does he does great, and he also wants to get better at it."
Crosby was asked by NHL.com if it's a fair comparison.
"That's for everyone else to decide," he said. "I think it's human nature. It's hockey; it's what we all do and what we all grow up understanding. So I think the biggest thing for Connor is just to enjoy this whole thing as much as he can.
"When I look back, you're so caught up in it. When I was 16 and 17 years old, my older buddies were telling me to enjoy the ride. I think everyone in [McDavid's] position has to deal with comparisons. I don't think it changes whether it's him or someone else the year before. I'm sure they were comparing first-overall pick [defenseman Aaron] Ekblad in the 2014 draft to someone. I think there's always going to be comparisons to other players and it's not a bad thing."
There's certainly a lot to compare when Crosby's junior career is lined up with McDavid's.
When Crosby was playing his final season with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2004-05, Hockey Hall of Fame member Wayne Gretzky said Crosby one day might break all of his NHL records.
Gretzky also has high praise for McDavid.
"He's the best player to come into the League in the last 30 years, the best to come along since [Mario] Lemieux and Crosby," Gretzky told the Edmonton Journal recently. "He can definitely change a franchise's fortunes."
The Edmonton Oilers hold the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Crosby and McDavid didn't spend too much time in junior hockey but each made a lasting impression.
Rimouski selected a 16-year-old Crosby with the first pick of the 2003 QMJHL draft; as a 15-year-old in 2002-03 he had 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota.
McDavid was granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada in 2012, which made him eligible to be drafted as a 15-year-old, one year earlier than players usually become eligible; as a 14-year-old in 2011-12 he had 79 goals and 209 points in 88 games with the Toronto Marlboros minor midget team.
Erie selected McDavid with the first pick of the 2012 Ontario Hockey League draft, and in his first season had 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games and was named rookie of the year.
He continued to grow from there. He was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft in January, and held that spot when the final rankings were released in April.
The hype surrounding Crosby leading to the 2005 draft was similar to what McDavid is experiencing.
"McDavid, like Crosby, is on a plateau all by himself," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "I remember Rimouski needing a full-time person to handle the media requests for Sidney. The support McDavid has just seems to be in a much more controlled environment. But Connor has been on this pedestal, and there's far more media coverage and social networking in this day and age than there was with Sidney."
Aaron Cooney has dealt with countless media requests since being named Erie's director of broadcasting and media relations in August 2013.
"The good thing about Connor was the fact he knew [speaking with the media] came with the territory and was part of his job of being in the spotlight," Cooney said. "He knew what was coming and was prepared. He doesn't snap back at questioning; he'll never lie and he's up front and honest. He truly tells you how he always felt but he was always a team-first guy."
Cooney said that by the end of the season McDavid was being asked to talk to the media five times throughout the course of a game day.
"You know what a lot of these writers are looking for and I always enjoyed listening to Connor's responses," Cooney said. "He would have a knack of teasing you with an answer. He never completely gave reporters a complete answer but enough of a response to keep them satisfied.
"That's pretty impressive for a player his age."
Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr understands the pressure McDavid has been under the past three seasons; Orr is McDavid's agent.
"You all can see that not only is he a wonderful player but a wonderful young man and he's going to represent our game so well for a long, long time," Orr said. "He's one of those kids that comes along once in a while, loves the game, has a great passion for the game and respects the game."
STANDING HIS GROUND
McDavid missed eight weeks early in the season because of a broken pinky on his right hand sustained in a fight Nov. 11 and then time away from Erie to play for Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The 16 games McDavid missed because of the hand injury, combined with the four he missed while at the WJC, may have cost him a chance at the OHL scoring title. He had 120 points, nine behind league leader and teammate Dylan Strome, playing 21 fewer games.
"We never had a sit-down [with McDavid] and said we absolutely don't want you to fight, because you don't know every situation," Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said. "We didn't want him to fight. But to say you couldn't fight, that's up to him. The game is emotional and it happens. But we'd rather have Connor on the ice."
Two weeks after the fight, McDavid said in a video on the Erie website that there wasn't much he would change about what happened.
"I just got into it and [Mississauga Steelheads forward Bryson Cianfrone] dropped his gloves; I'm not just going to sit there and take punches," McDavid said. "I probably wouldn't change a whole lot thinking about it now. I think it was the right thing to do [at the time] and I'd rather fight than turtle or anything like that. There's not a whole lot you can do in that situation."
Steven Stamkos, chosen No. 1 in the 2008 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, said McDavid just needed to move forward from the incident.
"I'm definitely not against guys sticking up for themselves; I think everyone has been in a position where they've done that," Stamkos said. "But when you do there's always risk. I remember different people telling me, 'Stammer, we don't want you fighting or risk breaking your hand.' That was specifically said, so that's the risk obviously. But I'm not going to harp on [McDavid] because he did that. He stuck up for himself and sometimes you need to do that.
"In saying that, maybe he'll think twice next time around."
McDavid had 104 penalty minutes in 166 regular-season games during his three seasons with Erie. Crosby had 158 penalty minutes in 121 games in two seasons with Rimouski.
Even though Crosby and McDavid played in different eras, there are similarities in their development.
As a 16-year-old QMJHL rookie in 2003-04, Crosby averaged 0.92 goals and 2.29 points per game in 59 regular-season games; McDavid was 16 when his second OHL season started; he averaged 0.50 goals and 1.76 points in 56 games.
At 17 in 2004-05, Crosby's second and final junior season, he averaged 1.06 goals and 2.70 points in 62 games. He led the QMJHL in goals (66), assists (102) and points (168) in 62 games.
McDavid, who started this season as a 17-year-old (he turned 18 on Jan. 13), averaged 0.94 goals and 2.55 points in 47 games. He was third in the OHL with 120 points and tied for fourth with 44 goals.
Crosby had a point in 37 straight games in 2004-05, a streak that ran from Oct. 23, 2004 through Feb. 9, 2005; he had 41 goals and 93 points during his streak (2.51 points per game), the longest in the league since Reginald Savage had a point in 40 straight games in 1988-89.
McDavid had a point in 27 straight games, between Nov. 7, 2014 and March 8; he had 26 goals and 67 points during his streak (2.48 points per game). It was the longest streak in the league since John Tavares had a point in 27 straight games in 2007-08.
McDavid had 36 multipoint games in the regular season and 14 in 20 OHL playoff games. He did not have a point four times, twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs.
Crosby had 45 multipoint games in the regular season and nine in 13 QMJHL playoff games. He did not have a point four times, twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs.
In the 2005 QMJHL playoffs, Crosby had 14 goals and 31 points in 13 games.
In 20 OHL playoff games, McDavid led the league in goals (21), assists (28) and points (49); his 1.05 goals-per-game average nearly was equal to Crosby's 1.07, and McDavid's 2.45 points per game was slightly ahead of Crosby's 2.38.
"There hasn't been a player like McDavid since Sidney Crosby; there just hasn't," NHL Network analyst Craig Button said. "He's that good. Is it unrealistic? No. Nobody is saying that McDavid is going to be Sidney Crosby, and I think when we compliment players and say he's a generational player, that's a heck of a compliment. I think Connor is deserving of it too."
Crosby entered the 2005 draft No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters, the same spot McDavid occupies in the 2015 rankings.
"I feel he does everything well; he's a smart player, sees the ice and can beat guys 1-on-1 if he needs to," Crosby said. "He uses his teammates and makes a lot of plays to set them up.
"If I had a chance to talk to him I'd tell him to just try and keep things as normal as possible, as hard as it is with all the expectations. I think you just need to remember that everything doesn't happen all at once; it's a process, so just enjoy it. Enjoy being an 18-year-old and all the things that come along with that. Because in the end his game will kind of speak for itself."
The numbers for each player were similar in two appearances in the World Junior Championship. When McDavid earned a spot at the 2014 WJC, he became the sixth 16-year-old to play for Canada at the event, the first since Crosby in 2004.
Crosby won a silver medal with Canada at the 2004 WJC and a gold medal at the 2005 WJC when he had six goals and nine points in six games. McDavid and Canada finished fourth at the 2014 WJC then won the gold medal at the 2015 WJC when he had three goals and 11 points in seven games. His 11 points tied for the tournament lead and he was named to the WJC All-Star team.
"Sidney had a lot more lower-body power in his game at 17," Button said. "Connor skates by people, and you can't look at the game in the prism of 2005 because with the obstruction, inference and holding back then, that was something Sidney really had to work through in a big way.
"They are both good at adapting on the fly while skating at top speed, and that is very rare."
Button said McDavid's speed with the puck may be unprecedented.
"Anything that an elite player needs, McDavid has," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "I always say vision and smarts are the two big things. You can be an adequate skater, but if you have great vision and smarts you can be an elite hockey player and that's what he is. Time will tell how good he's going to be, but he's coming in at a different era too. So the points always dictate how good they really are, and I think McDavid is the next one after Crosby."
In Crosby's first NHL season, he had 39 goals and 102 points in 81 games; he was the third 18-year-old to have 100 points in a season, the first since Dale Hawerchuk had 103 in 1982-83. Crosby finished second to Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the Calder Trophy.
In Crosby's second season, he led the League with 120 points and won the Art Ross Trophy, becoming the youngest player and the only teenager to win a scoring title in any major North American sports league. He also won the Hart Trophy, and by his third season was Penguins captain.
Time will tell if McDavid can have that type of impact. But if 2014-15 is an indicator, his NHL rookie season should be something very special.
"I've been coaching Connor for two and a half years, and what stood out to me was his development over the summer with his conditioning [leading into 2014-15]," Knoblauch said. "He just came back so much stronger and was able to do so much more on the ice. As for his skill and development, starting at 15 years old to where he is now, it's been a gradual climb. Nothing he has done has really jumped off the charts because it was a natural progression."
McDavid was Erie captain this season and centered a line with Remi Elie (Dallas Stars) and 2016 NHL Draft-eligible forward Alex DeBrincat.
While others have compared McDavid to Crosby, McDavid has steered clear. Instead he's said he admires the 200-foot game and offensive ability of one of Crosby's rivals, Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux.
"I'd compare myself to someone who is very reliable in his own zone and can be put out there in the last two minutes of a game to either score a goal or to defend the goal," McDavid said.
Crosby said, "[McDavid] has to be his own player and I'm sure he has high expectations. You don't get as high as he is without having high expectations so it seems like he's pretty motivated."
Motivation to be the best is something McDavid and Crosby certainly have in common.
Author: Mike Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer