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Oilers' Messier sees smooth transition for McDavid

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers legend Mark Messier worked with Connor McDavid on an advertising campaign this summer, but prior to Thursday had never seen the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft play in person.

Messier, who works as a hockey adviser for the Oilers, was here to watch McDavid and the Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks in a preseason game at Rexall Place.

"This is the first time I've seen him live -- obviously, I follow the games on TV -- so I'm looking forward to it," Messier said following the Oilers morning skate. "Meeting Connor this summer and shooting the [Rogers Communications] commercials together, I got to see what a great young man he is and I know he's excited to get the season started."

Messier won the Stanley Cup five times with Edmonton and with the New York Rangers in 1994. He said expects McDavid to make a smooth transition into the NHL.

"His off-ice demeanor, his work ethic, his commitment, all the things that make great players great, he obviously has," Messier said. "But there is going to be a learning curve, there is no question. He's going to be up against players that are equally as fast, equally as good, equally as strong and equally as smart. Finding a way to be successful at this level will come to him, but there will be a little bit of growing pains along the way."

McDavid is the most anticipated player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby in 2005. McDavid  scored 44 goals and 120 points in 47 games with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

The Oilers earned the right to select McDavid by winning the NHL Draft Lottery in April. He is their fourth No. 1 selection on the roster, joining Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) and Nail Yakupov (2012).

Expectations on McDavid, however, are higher than they were on the past three No. 1s.

"That's what great, special players carry, that's what they bring: expectations," Messier said. "Everybody can clearly see how great of a hockey player he is and has been and there is no reason why he isn't going to be able to do the same thing at the next level. With that come expectations and pressures and all the things that great players have to burden. But they find a way to take it in stride. I don't see Connor handling it any different than [Wayne] Gretzky, Crosby or [Mario] Lemieux or all the great players that have come before him."

Messier said he believes McDavid has all the skills to become a dominant player in the NHL. McDavid had four assists in three preseason games going into the game against the Canucks.

Edmonton ends its preseason schedule Saturday at Vancouver and begins the regular season Oct. 8 at the St. Louis Blues.

"Great players possess a great skill-set all across the board; the four fundamentals you have to master in hockey are skating, shooting, passing and puck-handling," Messier said. "Those are four basic skills that every hockey player has to work on from the time they start the game, and he obviously does that very well. The experience that comes along with that is critical, being able to think the game and see the game differently and slow the game down is a critical component to it. We've seen all the best players do it, all the way back since we were watching hockey in the '60s and through the '70s.

"Great players have a way to find open ice, they have the ability to do great things at great moments. Connor is no different than all the other players that have come before him, and like a lot of other players that are already on the team, great players like [Oilers forward Jordan] Eberle in scoring big goals, and Hall, winning championships in junior, and the list goes on."

With McDavid on the roster, Messier is optimistic about the Oilers' future. Edmonton has not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006.

"You can't help but feel excited for the organization," Messier said. "The new arena is coming and there is just a lot of great things happening. Now we have to find a way to translate that into success on the ice because, ultimately, that's the only thing that matters in the end, is having success on the ice. All the other things are great bells and whistles, but we need to find a way to help the team win and that's what we're all here to do."

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