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McDavid showcases his skills in Sabres' home rink

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Being in the spotlight is something Connor McDavid has gotten used to already in his career. But playing in a NHL arena in front of NHL fans is something new.

The 17-year-old Erie Otters center is one of the most anticipated prospects in years and may wind up being the first selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. McDavid's Otters defeated the Niagara IceDogs 8-4 Wednesday in an Ontario Hockey League game at First Niagara Center and he knows the attention on him is growing.

"It's a little different," McDavid said. "But I guess I've had a little bit experience in the last two years kind of growing up, [learning how] to act. It started pretty crazy in my 15-year-old year, when everyone was kind of first taking notice. So I have a little bit of experience. Obviously, this year is a little bit ramped up. Nothing really changes."

McDavid had a goal and three assists against Niagara and impressed the Buffalo crowd with his skill, including a deke in the first period to get around IceDogs defenseman Vince Dunn that left goalie Brent Moran alone to make a pad stop.

"I was a little bit fortunate to just one-hand it around the guy," McDavid said. "If I didn't make it, I don't think coach would be too happy about that. I was fortunate, but it turned out to be OK."

It might seem farfetched that a player with McDavid's talent could get in trouble with the coach, but he's still young and there are still lessons to be learned before becoming a professional.

"Connor is treated no differently than the other players by the coaches," Otters assistant coach Jay McKee said. "When he makes a mistake we let him know; whether that's on the bench or that's on video. There was a game in Saginaw he took a penalty while we were already shorthanded and that he shouldn't have taken and that was addressed in front of all the players.

"So he is an exceptional player. He leads by example. He does all the right things, but he is human. He does make mistakes and, like every other player, we do correct him as well."

Through the first 10 games this season, McDavid has 29 points and is building on his impressive junior hockey career. With numbers like those, the attention on him has been warranted.

"I get these questions all the time about the pressure he's under," Otters general manager Sherry Bassin said. "It's not pressure to him or [Dylan] Strome or any of the guys you see in the room. It's opportunity. That's what good players are all about. We don't think about him being 17 or anything like that. You'd never know it. His work ethic away from the game, and you'll find this in our whole team, people think that if you're a good talker you're a good leader. He leads by conduct. He's got a good values system to make good judgments for himself and the team."

With a full season ahead of him and a busy May and June of 2015 with the scouting combine and draft yet to come, McDavid has gotten some advice from friends who were 2014 draft selections.

"I've been kind of texting [Florida Panthers defenseman] Aaron Ekblad and [Calgary Flames forward] Sam Bennett, just getting their thoughts on what their idea of the draft year was," McDavid said. "I guess it gets a whole lot worse from here is what they've been saying. It hasn't been fun. It hasn't been bad, I guess."

The attention on McDavid isn't only coming from NHL scouts and executives; it's coming from the fans too. Playing in Buffalo has meant getting extra attention from Sabres fans with Buffalo off to a 1-5-0 start this season. McDavid has said he avoids reading what's written about him, but it's a bit more difficult in the internet age.

"It's pretty weird to think about," McDavid said. "Whenever the Sabres lose, my Twitter just kind of blows up, fans kind of talking about me and stuff like that. I guess it contradicts what I've been saying about reading about myself. It's a little bit different. I really can't explain it. It's pretty cool."

It's not just Sabres fans with hopes of seeing McDavid playing for their team next season, but those who have seen him nightly say the hype surrounding him is worth believing.

"For the people that have seen him play, it is pretty amazing," McKee said. "Draft picks from 1 to 10 usually the players will have a great shot or great speed or work their tail off, there's something to high draft picks that are special about all those players. Connor really ... he has all those abilities in one person.

"The fans here should want a guy like that, they should tweet him. It's pretty unique because you don't find players of his capability very often. It's not every year in the draft that you can find a guy like that, and I think this year is a special year."

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