Wayne Gretzky said he doesn't expect Connor McDavid to struggle in the NHL despite extremely high expectations, turning pro at 18 after three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.
"Going right from junior to the NHL? That's a big step for Connor," Gretzky told the Edmonton Journal this week. "But he's the one guy who can handle it. He'll be fine. With his speed and his shot and his creativity and his hockey knowledge, that's as good as anybody."
McDavid had 44 goals and 120 points with the Erie Otters of the OHL last season and had 21 goals and 49 points in 20 playoff games. He was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
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Gretzky went from the World Hockey Association to the NHL when the former folded in 1979. He had 46 goals and 110 points in 89 games for the Indianapolis Racers and Edmonton Oilers in the WHA during the 1978-79 season.
Gretzky handled the transition from the WHA to the NHL. In his first season in the NHL, he had 51 goals and 137 points in 79 games, and is the NHL all-time leading scorer in goals (894) and points (2,857).
"The WHA was better than junior hockey, but wasn't as good as the NHL," Gretzky said. "I had the one year to get groomed. I was playing against men, but not the best men in the NHL."
Gretzky helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times in five seasons in the 1980s. They made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes, and haven't been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since.
"As good as he is, he's unselfish. [McDavid] wants the team to do well," Gretzky said. "That's really important for an 18-year-old with the limelight.
"What's going to surprise NHL people about Connor is he has an extra gear. When you think you've got him, he'll pull away. That's his strength."
A 10-time Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's top scorer, Gretzky knows the expectations for McDavid during his rookie year will be high.
"Is Connor going to win the scoring title? That's probably asking too much, but he's got the ability to compete," Gretzky said.
"I don't know what to expect quite honestly. The best players in the game only managed 87 points to win the scoring title last year because the game is so defensive right now."