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McDavid puts on show in home debut with Oilers

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Connor McDavid put on a show Wednesday for the 14,434 fans who turned out to see his first game at Rexall Place.

McDavid assisted on three goals to lead the Edmonton Oilers rookies to a 6-3 victory against the two-time Canadian national champion University of Alberta Golden Bears in their annual exhibition game.

The first 24 games in the series were played at the 2,700-seat Clare Drake Arena on the Golden Bears' campus. But with McDavid, the first player taken in the 2015 NHL Draft, as the main attraction, the game was moved to the longtime home of the Oilers.

McDavid, who sat out the final two of Edmonton's three games at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, British Columbia, last weekend, said he got a lift from the home crowd. It was McDavid's first game at Rexall Place, though he participated in a rookie scrimmage during the summer that also drew a large crowd.

"Anytime there is that many fans and they're that into the game, and they're that loud, it's pretty special to play in front of," McDavid said. "I thought I was a little bit better, I felt better in terms of legs and all that."

McDavid also displayed his speed, racing in alone on a pair of breakaways in the first period, though he was unable to convert.

"I thought he was good," Oilers rookie coach Gerry Fleming said. "He's so explosive and such a dynamic player, he's fun to watch. I thought he played well tonight."

McDavid had the first good scoring chance of the game, winning a race to a loose puck in the Golden Bears zone and going in alone on goaltender Luke Siemens. He tried to beat Siemens with a highlight-reel, one-handed drag move but was stopped by the goaltender.

Later in the period, McDavid raced in alone again but was unable to get a proper handle on the puck in front of Siemens.

The Golden Bears opened the scoring with an unassisted goal from Rhett Rachinski five minutes into the game, but McDavid helped the Oilers tie the game on the power play. He spotted Braden Christoffer behind the net, and Christoffer centered the puck to Leon Draisaitl in the slot. The Oilers' top pick in the 2014 draft fired it past Siemens.

Draisaitl had a goal and three assists.

"Anytime you get a chance to work with [Darnell] Nurse, [Leon] Draisaitl, [Braden] Christoffer and [Anton] Slepyshev, it makes for a pretty good power play," McDavid said. "It seemed to work pretty well early."

A little more than two minutes later, McDavid again showed his passing skills when he set up the Oilers' second goal. He was behind the net and slid the puck through a defenseman's legs to Alexis Loiseau in front. Loiseau was able to control it and slide a shot past Siemens.

"That was more in terms of seeing their guys," McDavid said. "One guy was on Draisaitl, who cycled it, and another came to me, and just by those numbers alone there should be a guy open. I just tried to throw it out there, and obviously, Loiseau made a pretty spectacular play to bury that."

In the third period, McDavid set up Sanford on a 2-on-1 rush to put the Oilers up 5-3. McDavid raced down the left side and feathered a pass across the slot to Sanford for the tap-in.

"It was a pretty nice setup. Anytime you get a pass like that, you just have to bear down," Sanford said. "He did most of the work there. I just had to bear down and make sure it went in.

"It was exciting to play with him. It was a great opportunity for myself. Him as a player, he's pretty good, and the way he skates out there and handles the puck at full speed, it was an honor to play with him. It was a lot of fun."

Sanford, 20, was told at the morning skate he would be playing on McDavid's line. The native of Vernon, British Columbia, spent last season with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League, scoring 50 goals with 45 assists in 72 games. He was invited to Oilers rookie camp on a free agent tryout and is expected to return to Medicine Hat. He'll leave with a goal to remember.

"When you're playing with a player like [McDavid], you're always trying to look for him," Sanford said. "Anytime he has the puck on his stick, he makes plays. So anytime you have the puck on your stick, you're looking for him. I think his skating and the way he makes plays at high speeds is impressive. In and out of traffic, he makes plays at high speeds and he doesn't slow down. He glides out there pretty fast, faster than most guys can skate. I'd say his skating and his ability to make plays is impressive."

The game against the Golden Bears marked the conclusion of the Oilers' rookie camp. McDavid will attend the main camp starting Friday and is expected to be in the lineup against the Calgary Flames in one of two split-squad games taking place simultaneously at Rexall Place and Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday in Calgary.

He's eager to test himself.

"I'm excited, all the guys are talking about it and it's going to be cool out there," McDavid said. "It's my first training camp and I'm certainly looking forward to get it going."

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