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Oilers' Ference talks McDavid, locker room leadership

by Evan Sporer / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Andrew Ference grew up just outside of Edmonton. His formative hockey years were spent watching the Edmonton Oilers cement their dynasty in the late 1980s. So when Ference had an opportunity to sign with his hometown team and play in the arena where he grew up watching from the stands, he jumped on it, calling it a fairytale.

The fairytale will soon be adding a new character, and Ference, like many of his teammates and Oilers fans, isn't hiding his excitement.

The Oilers won the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery this past Saturday for what has been one of the most hyped drafts in recent memory. The presumptive first pick, forward Connor McDavid, could become the next great hope for Oilers hockey.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference is excited about the future of the team, which has the No. 1 pick heading into the 2015 NHL Draft. (Photo: Jamie Sabau/NHLI)

"The thing about playing hockey in Canada, it's not just a big day for me personally but for our city," said Ference, who said he watched the draft lottery show on TV. "Our city the last few years has been miserable. We've lost way too much. We haven't been competitive enough.

"To have that and the positivity that comes with that, the anticipation that comes with that, you go out, and you talk to friends in the city and people that are fans of the team and there's genuine excitement. That's good."

Ference said the fortunes of NHL franchises today can swing very quickly, and the line that separates teams is very small. Getting a top player, one most expect to be McDavid, can be a major push in starting that swing for the Oilers.

"You definitely come at it from more of a -- this isn't just the answer, you have to build up everything around what you're doing in the first place," Ference said. "You still have to have that strong foundation of defense and goaltending.

"You can't win with a couple of guys in this League; it just doesn't work. Without a doubt it's a massive piece for us."

Ference said he's watched McDavid play, having seen him on television at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and in other highlights.

"The biggest thing is what you hear from people that have seen him in person; former players, or scouts, and it's for real, for sure, without a doubt," Ference said. "The speed that he plays with, it's pretty impressive.

"Everybody is pretty convinced he's the real thing."

As the Oilers captain, Ference shoulders much of the leadership load, making sure new players are comfortable and the locker room is cohesive. With McDavid, or whomever the Oilers select at No. 1, Ference said it's very important to make sure the player feels at home.

"The biggest thing is to give him a comfortable space and to just be human, to be a teammate," Ference said. "He's a just a dude. Some people are really great at playing hockey. That's the thing: They're just people who are really good at what they do, and really great, but they have stuff going on outside of hockey, and they have other interests, and they're just like any other person.

"That's the sanctuary, at the rink, when they're around the guys, it's just their chance to just relax, it's just their chance to be themselves; it's a chance to do what they do best in a good environment."

Ference played with forward Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 pick in 2010, when they were with the Boston Bruins. He's played with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev and Jarome Iginla during his career. Ference said the only way to maximize a star's talent is by keeping everything balanced.

"At the rink that's the biggest thing: Just make sure that's a place where he can be him," said Ference. "If he's a guy who loves "Star Wars," he loves "Star Wars." If he's a dude that loves fast cars, he loves fast cars. But you just accept people for who they are, and those dressing room environments where you have that and they're not trying to be some macho version of what they think a hockey player should be in the NHL, those are really comfortable environments."

With three No. 1 picks already on their roster and other young, heralded players in the pipeline, Ference's fairytale return to Edmonton could soon be approaching its apex.

"The way young guys come into the League now, it's incredible," Ference said. "I remember my first couple of years just scrambling and not wanting to touch the puck, and we were brought up differently in junior.

"We weren't as primed to play the pro game. Now when you see young guys come in they're ready. Those guys can have immediate impacts on your team."

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