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McDavid's dedication to craft leads to captaincy

Connor McDavid was named the Oilers 15th captain in their franchise history

by Chris Wescott @TheChrisWescott / Head Writer

Video: OILERS TODAY | Captain Connor

Connor McDavid has been leading by example for years, even if he didn't know it.

He's always been a glutton for dedication to his craft, well before his playing career reached the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters, or the NHL. Whether it was hammering pucks into a garage wall until the scarring was permanent or building his own training regimen and obstacle courses in his family's basement, or even a mature-beyond-his-years interest in nutrition, McDavid set the tone as a young athlete.

It's no surprise the Oilers pegged him as their 15th captain in franchise history. It's also no surprise that the dedication he's displayed for years eventually led to him being the youngest captain in NHL history.

"I think the writing was on the wall there," said Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot. "There's no better guy to lead this team moving forward than one of the most exciting and best players in the league.

"I don't think they could have chosen a better guy for the job."

We knew the Oilers would have their next captain at some point this off-season. Throughout a summer of speculation, one name rose above all others. That name was Connor McDavid.

On Wednesday, Edmonton turned rumour to truth and handed over the C. In addition to McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were named alternate captains.

McDavid has wowed his teammates with his leadership abilities since coming into the League as the first-overall pick in 2015. Things really came to a head late in his rookie year. Following an injury-shortened 2015-16 campaign, in which McDavid recorded 48 points (16-32-48) in 45 games, nearly all of his teammates went out of their way to applaud his leadership and character.

For the players and staff, it actually began upon his return from that broken clavicle. McDavid scored a goal and added two assists in a superb performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That was the start of a change of approach for the rookie. It did not go unnoticed.

"I think that first game back he showed he was ready to take charge and he was ready to play," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I think at that point his play evolved. He was confident. The way he carried himself in the locker room, the way he interacted with his teammates, through some of the meetings at the end of the season, players that aren't ready don't share a lot and he was really open with us. We were open with him. At that point it was real evident he was ready to lead this group."

McDavid proved his leadership once more this off-season, wearing the "C" for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. Even there, his teammates saw the promise.

"He says the right things when he needs to, and obviously leads by example," said North America teammate Mark Scheifele. "He's always working hard. He's always doing what it takes to help the team and he's a good captain for us."

Video: RAW | McDavid on the captaincy

Leading a group of 23-and-under players from many different teams and two different countries, in such a short tournament and against international competition, was the perfect testing ground for McDavid.

"I think that was almost even more difficult a job than this," said McDavid. "I was still trying to get to know all the guys at the same time. Here in Edmonton, I've grown so close and definitely feel a lot more comfortable in this dressing room than that one. I almost feel more comfortable here than there."

Nugent-Hopkins was with McDavid at the World Cup, and was impressed by his continued display of maturity.

"He's a really mature kid for just being 19 years old, and he handles everything well," said Nugent-Hopkins.

The Oilers alternate captain is most impressed with how McDavid never changed his approach to the locker room or game with a letter on his chest. He was consistently leading by example the way he had before being given the honour. Much of the same is expected here in Edmonton.

McDavid has a history of captaincy, outside of the World Cup as well. He was an alternate captain for the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget AAA team and was an alternate for Canada at the 2015 World Juniors. In his final year of junior, McDavid was captain for the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters.

Darnell Nurse played against McDavid's Otters in the OHL playoffs that year. The Oilers defenceman applauds the team's decision to make McDavid their captain, citing the sophomore centre's aforementioned dedication to the game and how he leads without words - unless words are needed.

"You see every single night he goes out there and leads by example," Nurse said. "He's not afraid to say something when it needs to be said. For everyone in the room, he's a great example of how you go out there and play every night. He takes it to a new level and definitely brings energy every night that we can feed off of.

"It's the every-day decisions," Nurse added. "No matter what he's doing, he's trying to make the right call. For a leader, for a captain, you want to follow a good example and there's no better example than a guy who comes in every day, takes care of what he puts in his body, does everything he can in the gym, and does everything he can on the ice. The captain really leads first by example, and he's a textbook example of that."

McDavid can be a uniter of a locker room. He's already shown that ability, in both gaining the support of his teammates and also with his actions. McDavid can be seen on the road hanging out with multiple groups of players, mixing it up and keeping cliques out of the room.

"I think I'm a guy who can relate to everyone and is very close with everyone on the team," said McDavid. "I try and bring guys together and all that. I think that's what I tried to focus to do in Erie and it felt like everyone was a part of a team. I definitely try and lead that way. I'm not the big 'rah-rah' kind of guy."

McDavid joins a long list of fantastic players to wear the C for Edmonton, including - but certainly not limited to - Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. And although he begins his journey as the youngest in League history, he does so with full support from his club.

"Very happy for him, very proud of him," said McLellan. "I don't think many of them were surprised, which I think is a good sign for us. They certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for him right now with the way he plays, way he prepares, way he carries himself for a 19-year-old."

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