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Oilers draft potential franchise centre

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

SUNRISE, FL - It was no real secret what the Oilers were going to do with the first-overall pick in tonight’s NHL Draft. And it certainly wasn’t a surprise to see who they picked.

From the second the Oilers were revealed as the winners of the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery in April, all eyes have been on Connor McDavid. Really, all eyes have been on McDavid since he was a young kid. He was granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada as a 15-year-old. He had a 209-point season in minor midget with the Toronto Marlboros.

He’s certainly not unknown in hockey circles and hasn’t been for quite some time.

McDavid is unanimously considered a generational talent and future franchise centre. His entire hockey career has been a highlight reel of remarkable plays and now he takes that to Edmonton.

“This is a dynamic player,” said Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli. “Based on what I’ve seen on the ice and off the ice he’s got some leader characteristics I haven’t seen in a lot of players. We have to be cognizant of that, but to me there’s quite a gap between him and the rest of the group. He’s the type of player I feel you can win with.”

McDavid lit up the Ontario Hockey League this season with 120 points (44-76-120) in 47 games for the Erie Otters. He led the league in playoff scoring with 49 points (21-28-49) in 20 games. He really was the consensus top-ranked prospect in this year’s draft, and is touted as the best to enter the draft in a very long time.

“It’s just the way he processes the game,” said NHL Central Scouting’s Director of Scouting Dan Marr. “He’s got exceptionally quick wits about him and he’s got anticipation. It’s the way he can execute plays really without even looking. I think his linemates know to just go to the net, have your stick on the ice and he’ll deliver the puck to them.

“He’s got some slick moves about him. When you get that type of player that just has that kind of hockey IQ… and he’s got those quick wits about him there, he ends up being a difference maker in more cases than not. What we like about him is almost every time you watch him play he can show you something new. We think the best is really yet to come.”

McDavid was named the OHL and CHL Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season.

Photo by Getty Images.

The young centre has drawn comparisons to Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux. Gretzky himself called McDavid the best to come into the league in the last 30 years.

Oilers great Paul Coffey, who has watched McDavid’s career closely, has high praise.

“Connor is special. He’s the real deal,” said Coffey. “I’m not saying this to put any added pressure on him or say things people have already said, but he’s definitely the real deal. Great kid, great family. It’s exciting. I sent him a note that, as a former Oiler, we’d be happy to have him here for sure.”

Scouts all agree that he is going to be a great player in the NHL, but he’s only 18. Chiarelli says he doesn’t want to label him but the potential is there.

“He makes a play every time he’s on the ice. If that defines a game-changer then he’s a game-changer,” said Chiarelli.

McDavid also has his head on straight. From his fitness and nutrition to his practice habits, McDavid is devoted to being the best player he can be.

“I’m hard on myself,” he said. “I think if you’re going to be good that’s the way it has to be. You have to have high expectations for yourself. I think I do have high expectations for myself. When I don’t meet them it’s upsetting, but there is a lot of pressure coming at me from the outside. I try not to put too much internal pressure on myself just because there is already enough of that out there.”

There is outside pressure, because people believe McDavid is the real deal.

“100%, but he can’t do it by himself,” said Coffey. “Wayne (Gretzky) couldn’t do it by himself. That’s the way it is. You can’t do it by yourself. Everyone has to (help). When you get a talent like him or you get a talent like Wayne or a talent like Mario (Lemieux), it’s up to everyone else to keep up and get going because you don’t want him to come back down. You don’t want the special talent to come back down to anyone’s level. It’s up to everyone else to pick their game up higher. You get those special players in any sport and it’s up to everyone else to pick up their game and keep pace. Nobody can do it by themselves.”

McDavid took to the stage at the BB&T Center and put on the Oilers new orange third jersey. It was a fitting way to announce the new look, as McDavid puts a stamp on what has been an off-season of change for the franchise.

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