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Blues anxious, curious to test McDavid in NHL debut

by Dan Rosen

ST. LOUIS -- OK, now prove it.

That was the general feeling from some of the veteran players inside the St. Louis Blues dressing room Thursday, hours before Edmonton Oilers rookie center Connor McDavid, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was set to make his pro debut against them at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; SN360).

Arguably no player since Sidney Crosby in 2005 has come into the League with as much hype as McDavid. Expectations are high, maybe too high for an 18-year-old, and his first opponent wants to see how he can handle it, if he's the real deal.

"Everyone's job coming into the League is to prove themselves," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Yeah, you know, he's touted and he's a great player, but for a lot of us here we feel like we've established ourselves. He doesn't seem like a kid who is already talking like he's been here for six or seven years and that's the first step as a young player, not to get too comfortable right away. But more than anything, once he proves himself, that's when you earn the respect around the League."

McDavid already has earned enough respect from the Blues to be a topic of their pregame video session. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said most of the pre-scouting on the Oilers was on coach Todd McLellan and what he's trying to bring there in his first season, but McDavid definitely was part of the discussion.

"I don't think we're doing ourselves any favors if we don't," St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said.

Particularly because no one on the Blues wants to be on a highlight reel of McDavid's first goal.

"I think it's [about a] level of containment to make sure that you're not the first guy getting danced by the young guy," Shattenkirk said. "Everyone who I've talked to only has amazing things to say about him, and I think for that reason he's going to draw some respect from us. He's obviously someone they're talking about being a generational player. And for that reason we have to treat him that way."

And they will, but with a piqued level of curiosity to see what the hype is all about.

As much as there is a prove it feeling among Blues players, and even in McDavid's own dressing room, it's born out of the curiosity many have regarding what he is capable of early in his first season.

That curiosity led a number of national media outlets, including USA Today, ESPN, Canadian Press and even the Toronto Star to have reporters in St. Louis for McDavid's debut when they otherwise likely wouldn't be here.

"You guys are all curious, you're from all over the place coming in," McLellan said. "I'm curious too."

Said Pietrangelo, "We all are [curious]. I mean, there's been a lot of hype around the kid. I've only heard good things about him as a person and as a player. You don't really know until you get on the ice, and [Thursday] will be the first example."

The Blues plan to make McDavid's debut memorable for reasons he might want to forget.

"We play a blue-collar, in-your-face, hard-nosed style," St. Louis captain David Backes said. "If he's an opponent, he's going to experience that and let's see how he responds to it."

Said Hitchcock, "If you think we're going to make it easy on him, you're crazy."

McDavid has been told what to expect from the Blues.

"They'll go after him," Oilers center Mark Letestu said. "If I was playing against him I'd be aware and ready to test him."

McDavid also is smart enough to know the target is on his back and that opening his career in Scottrade Center against one of the League's more bruising teams can be a daunting task.

"It's a good place to start," McDavid said. "Obviously it's going to be a challenge and a good test for not only our team but myself."

His teammates, including three players who, like McDavid, were recent No. 1 draft picks (Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011, Nail Yakupov in 2012), say the best thing they can do for McDavid is to try to take some of the pressure off of him.

The only way to do that now is to temper their expectations.

"It's important to remember he's 18," Hall said. "I'm 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and he still has bad games. There is going to be some trials and some errors, but he's in a position to succeed and it's going to be fun to watch him grow."

McDavid will hit a growth spurt Thursday when the lights go on and his NHL career begins, when he finally gets to start proving he's worth it.

"You can be hyped all you want, but his game will speak for itself," Pietrangelo said. "He's obviously going to be a great player so we've got to make sure we keep an eye on him. Whether it's his first game or his 1,000th game, our job is to take care of business, shut him down."


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