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GENE'S BLOG: Catching up with Connor

by Gene Principe / Special to

I was leaving Staples Center on Tuesday and was stopped by a security guard. He wanted to ask me a question.

"There are a bunch of people around here," is how he started.

From there came the question.

"Who is this guy people are chasing after for autographs?"

My answer was an easy one: "Connor McDavid."

The security guard, who was very friendly, might be one of the few people at a North American hockey arena who doesn't know McDavid. That wasn't the case for two kids and a dad I met outside the rink. Connor signed both of their jerseys and their poster - natural hat trick.

McDavid hasn't had too many quiet moments in his young life but I'm not sure things have been busier than they are right now as a young man leading a franchise and a fan base to the playoffs.

You drive around Edmonton and these larger-than-life billboards boasting photos of Connor are hard to miss. Also, it's hard to miss him on the ice. You can't hide if you're the 20 year-old, whether you're at the rink or at a restaurant. It's a lot of pressure but he seems to live off it while his blood pressure looks like it's resting at a120/80 or even lower.

I did see his heart rate go up just a little when he was asked about the Olympics. He remembered where he was and who he was with the exact moment Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal at the 2010 games in Vancouver. He was playing for the Toronto Marlies of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. Connor was all of 13 years old when Crosby sent Canada to gold. A measly seven years later and now he was expected to lead this country down a golden path. It won't be happening because of the NHL's decision not to participate in the 2018 Olympics. Instead, he'll have to wait another four years after that for his next chance to wear the Maple Leaf.

Representing your country is quite likely the highest honour you can achieve but representing your club is the highest honour you can earn. You can hear it in his words and you can see it in his eyes. He wants to make the Oilers great again.

He wants to lead them, which is what he's done since being named the youngest captain in NHL history.

"He gets up and speaks," said McDavid's teammate Mark Letestu. "He doesn't rattle cages. Instead, he's very measured on what he brings to the group."

Letestu went onto add, "Connor means something when he says it. Guys listen when he talks."

It would be unfair to circle Connor McDavid as the only reason Edmonton has regained traction on the ice. There is an entire team, which includes Cam Talbot and Leon Draisaitl. Drafted two spots after and one year before #97 was Leon.

In a more defensive oriented era they are the Oilers modern day version of Gretzky and Kurri or Messier and Anderson. They fit each other's game and it shows in their results ‑ each with an 11-game point streak. They've both come a long way from when they first met.

"It was 2015 at the development camp," explained Draisaitl. "It was exciting to meet him."

I'm sure the feeling was mutual. Excitement is an emotion stirred up on a nightly, if not period basis, by the 20 year old. He's that good.

In fact, he's so good that barring a slow-down and a surge from one of the players in pursuit of the top spot, McDavid will win the scoring race and there's a chance he hits 100 points. Not even when the lottery fell in Edmonton's favour just over two years ago could this have been imaginable - a scoring title and maybe a division title in such short order. As an Edmonton kid who grew up watching the Oilers, and then to land a position on @Sportsnet covering them, it felt like I had the best job in the world. Now I get to watch the best player in the world. It's not meant to disrespect those in the League who have won more or scored more than McDavid. It's simply meant as a statement of opinion along with some truth.

One young man is making his moves that take your breath away, but at the same time breathing life into an organization proud of its past but oh so looking forward to the present and future.

Thank you, Connor McDavid. Thank you, Edmonton Oilers. The game is fun again, and we can expect the same to be said about the playoffs when every other team will desperately be doing their best at catching up with Connor.

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