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McDavid makes home debut as Oilers seek first win

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- After three road games to start his NHL career, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid will make his home debut Thursday against the St. Louis Blues (9 p.m. ET; SNOL, FS-MW).

The No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft will try to help Edmonton (0-3-0) earn its first win of the season in the final home opener at Rexall Place. Edmonton will move into a new arena next season.

"Edmonton has such a rich history that the past is so well-known. You don't have to know much about hockey to know about the Edmonton Oilers and know about their past," McDavid said. "I know a fair amount about their past. It's going to be a pretty special night."

McDavid, 18, scored his first NHL goal in a 4-2 loss at the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, redirecting an Andrej Sekera shot. The goal came in McDavid's third game, the same number of games it took Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby to score their first NHL goal.

McDavid is the most anticipated player to join the League since Crosby in 2005.

He played at Rexall Place during the preseason but said he expects a higher level of excitement for the home opener.

"I think there are always a little bit of nerves for the home opener," McDavid said. "You always want to put on a good show for the home crowd and make sure that you're getting them involved and make sure that they want to come back. I'm not nearly as nervous as I may have been for some other games, but I'm certainly anxious to play in front of such great fans."

Scoring his first goal has taken a bit of the pressure off McDavid, who admitted the pressure of not yet scoring started to become a burden, especially with other members of a deep NHL rookie class enjoying immediate success.

Seven rookies have more goals than McDavid, including Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. Eichel has two goals in his first three games. Arizona Coyotes forward Anthony Duclair had a hat trick Wednesday and leads rookies with five points. New York Rangers forward Oscar Lindberg leads rookies with four goals.

The Oilers selected McDavid No. 1 after winning the NHL Draft Lottery in April. The win precipitated changes to the organization, which included Peter Chiarelli being hired as general manager and Todd McLellan being brought in as coach.

The changes, along with the drafting of McDavid, created a sense of optimism around a team that has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for nine seasons.

"He doesn't like to lose, and that's the tough part, but it's sort of like his first year in Erie (in the Ontario Hockey League) when they only won 19 of 68 games," McDavid's father Brian said. "He wasn't used to that then. But he was part of a turnaround there and I think it'll be the same way here."

Brian and McDavid's mother Kelly are in Edmonton for the home-opener. They also were on the road with their son and in attendance for his first NHL goal.

Watching McDavid play in the NHL is the culmination of a lifelong dream for the family.

"It's been unbelievable," Brian McDavid said. "It's his dream; it's been his dream since he was 5 years old to play in the NHL. And to watch him play, words can't describe it. I think it's been unbelievable. I think he's done really well. It's a tough League to play in and I think he's handled the pressure and the situation incredibly well."

McDavid seems unfazed by the attention he has received entering the NHL. But McLellan said McDavid starting his career on the road was a benefit.

"He wants to win," McLellan said. "He's like everybody else. But having played three games and getting the goal in Dallas helped. Now the questions he would be asked about it aren't going to be asked, so that's nice he's off the hook there."

The Oilers home opener is the latest in what will be a season of firsts for McDavid. As he crosses them off the list, McLellan said things will get a bit easier.

"After [Thursday] the home opener is over so we won't talk about that with Connor. He's played his first game so we won't talk about that again," McLellan said. "But as we move down the road he's going to play in Calgary for the first time, he's going to play on 'Hockey Night in Canada' for the first time. He's going to go to Vancouver and it's just going to build and build and build until he goes through the League once and then he'll settle in and he'll be able to relax a little bit more."

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