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Oilers praise McDavid after informal skate

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Connor McDavid, the No. 1 pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, took the ice for his first informal skate with the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

McDavid joined a number of Oilers veterans who are preparing for the upcoming season. He will have rookie medicals Thursday before traveling to Penticton, British Columbia, to participate in the Young Stars Classic.

The Oilers open the tournament Friday against the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's been really good," McDavid said. "It was fun being around the guys and getting to meet some new faces. It's been good."

The Oilers won the right to select McDavid by winning the NHL Draft Lottery in April. The 18-year-old center is their fourth No. 1 selection in the past six years (Taylor Hall, 2010; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011; Nail Yakupov, 2012).

"I was with him at a conditioning camp in Toronto that [strength and conditioning coach] Matt Nichol runs, so I got my first glimpse of him there, but skating on a line with him in a scrimmage is incredible," Oilers left wing Luke Gazdic said. "I found out right from the first shift, once you give [McDavid] the puck you better get on your horse because he'll be 100 feet ahead of you if you don't catch up.

"When you give him that puck, you better get open because there is a good chance he's going to find you. Everyone knows he's a special talent, but he's also a special kid and just a nice, down-to-earth kid, and that translates on the ice."

McDavid spent part of the summer skating with Hall. The two will be roommates, along with Gazdic, up until training camp.

"[Hall] is an awesome guy and it's good to get to know him a little bit better," McDavid said. "We kind of met at the Hockey Canada event that was put on this summer. I met [Jordan] Eberle there as well. It was good. It was good to get to know them better."

The Oilers have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in nine seasons and are hoping McDavid's arrival will help end the streak. They enter the season with a new general manager, Peter Chiarelli, and a new coaching staff led by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan.

"It's exciting," McDavid said. "It was a quick summer, it went by pretty fast, but I couldn't be happier to get out to Edmonton and get things going."

McDavid has drawn comparisons to a number of elite players in the League. At the NHL's Player Media Tour on Tuesday, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos said that in comparison to himself, McDavid is a better player.

"That's obviously one of the nicest compliments, but I don't think that's really true," McDavid said. "I skated with him all summer long. I think that's one of the nicest compliments I've gotten."

On his first day with the Oilers veterans, McDavid drew rave reviews from some of his potential teammates.

"He came as advertised, you can see his speed right away," Oilers center Mark Letestu said. "Obviously, we're just playing around up here, we're not quite ramped up to full game speed and systems and whatnot. Skill-wise, he comes as advertised. He's pretty special to watch."

The Oilers are looking forward to getting to know their young center. They also hope to insulate him this season from the pressure of being the No. 1 pick and the high expectations that come with it.

"Today is the first day I've met him," Letestu said. "It'll take some time to get to know him as a teammate, but we'll try to break the ice for him. It's not easy. I've never been in his situation, the pressure he's facing and the expectations that come with it, but that's what we're here for as teammates. We're going to try and help, especially the guys that have been around a little bit. We're going to try to help him through some situations that he might be coming into for the first time. But he seems well-equipped and a mature kid, and I'm sure he'll do great."

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