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Wayne Gretzky excited for battle of No. 1 picks

Great One flies to Toronto to see first NHL game between Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews

by David Alter / Correspondent

TORONTO -- There was no way Wayne Gretzky was going to miss this.

"All eyes will be on those two kids, there's no question about it," Gretzky said at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, where Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers will play Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; TSN4, SNOL, NHL.TV). "I'll be watching. That's why I flew in. I'm excited to see the game and I think it's great for our sport."

McDavid, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, and Matthews, the top pick in the 2016 draft, will play against each other for the first time in the NHL. It's also the first time McDavid will play at Air Canada Centre as a member of the Oilers. The building is about 35 miles south of where he grew up, in Newmarket, Ontario.

Matthews and McDavid were teammates with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, and all games were played at Air Canada Centre. They know there is plenty of intrigue to their head-to-head NHL battle, but they say they have kept their focus on trying to win.

"Other than us being first overall picks together, or in back-to-back years, that's really the only thing in common we have," McDavid said. "I know him pretty well, he's a good guy. I get along well with him. I definitely don't consider him a rival."

Matthews has gone through other comparison games this season. He played against the Winnipeg Jets and forward Patrik Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, on Oct. 19. Laine had a hat trick in the Maple Leafs' 5-4 overtime loss.

"It's still Toronto vs. whoever else we're playing," Matthews said. "It's not any individual matchups. You don't really think about that too much."

Even if McDavid and Matthews won't acknowledge the comparisons, Gretzky said a matchup like the one Tuesday would have served as extra motivation during his playing days.

Video: EDM@VAN: McDavid shows off speed, finishes five-hole

"Absolutely it fires you up," he said. "It's a team game, but individually you've got pride too, and that's what makes superstars [into] Hall of Famers, is you have that pride as a player. The concern is with the team, but you get fired up. And Mario [Lemieux] got fired up and Guy Lafleur got fired up when he played against me. That's what makes the game great."

The game has added significance for McDavid. He missed the Oilers' game at Air Canada Centre last season because he was out with a broken left clavicle.

He will have plenty of family and friends in attendance. So much so that his representation rented a suite to accommodate them.

Video: TOR@MIN: Matthews puts home a rebound for the lead

McDavid saw a number of games at the building while growing up as a Maple Leafs fan.

"I was just a kid with my dad [and] I saw my first game, [Maple] Leafs and Rangers on a Saturday," McDavid said. "I remember I was so excited I barely slept. All day I could barely wait to get here. I actually remember the score, 4-1 for the Rangers. I'm hopeful for that [for the Oilers] tonight."

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