Oilers usher in the McDavid era
‘Now I’m an Edmonton Oiler. I couldn’t be more proud’
SUNRISE, FLA. — Connor McDavid is yours, Edmonton.
There was no suspense, no uncertainty, when the Edmonton Oilers officially conscripted McDavid, the prized prodigy of the Class of 2015.
The Oilers told McDavid long before Friday’s NHL entry draft that he was headed to Edmonton, but choose not to make it public.
Still, it was his moment and a moment that signals a fresh start for a franchise in need of change.
“To be honest with you, it was even better than I was expecting. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to feel,” McDavid said minutes after he was chosen first overall at the Florida Panthers’ BB & T Center. “I wasn’t too nervous, I was just anxious.
“They had to introduce everyone, all the teams, the roll call ... it just felt like it was going by so slowly. All I wanted to do was have that pick called.”
The Oilers were finally able to cash in their golden ticket and not only selected the Erie Otters centre with the first pick overall, they presented him with a new jersey, stitched with his name and the No. 97. His number. His time. “Now I’m an Edmonton Oiler. I couldn’t be more proud,” McDavid said during his round of interviews, his first official duty as an Oiler.
“This guy has a lot of dimensions to his game and he loves the game, too. I saw that a lot in the (Ontario Hockey League) playoffs,” said Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli, who was hired after Edmonton won the draft lottery.
“He was pretty nervous up on the stage. He’s been waiting so long for this moment, you’d think it would be just like every other day. But afterwards, he was at our table and back to normal.”
In the hours before the draft, McDavid found a way to fill the anxious hours.
“I had breakfast with my family, sat and had a coffee outside at the beach, had a workout and did some jetskiing, even though it was a little stormy out there,” he said. “Not the safest thing to do, but it was a lot of fun. Had a little down time to myself. “It’s been a great day.” Edmonton won the draft lottery on April 18, in spite of 11.5-per-cent odds, securing their fourth first overall selection in six years.
McDavid, who follows Nail Yakupov (2012), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) and Taylor Hall (2010), is in another class, however. He is expected to be the next Sidney Crosby, capable of single-handedly pulling the Oilers back into the playoffs, much like Crosby did with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Chiarelli is taking a more realistic approach.
“Ever since we won the lottery and I got the job, I’ve told myself I have to try and temper expectations to help Connor,” Chiarelli said. “So you’re going to hear me temper expectations about him for a long time.
“I want to make sure he gets up and running (because) he’s going to have his ups and downs, (but) he is a terrific player. You don’t want to heap too many more expectations on him.
“When we had him in Edmonton and I talked to him one-on-one, some of the things we talked about was the heavy down low battling, the faceoffs. The strength stuff,” Chiarelli continued. “He’s strong, but it’s different when you play against NHL players. There’s battles he’s going to lose. He’s not superman. And there’s going to be mistakes he makes.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Is he going to be an impact player next year?’ I would say no.”
Drafted first overall by the Otters when he was 15, McDavid leaves the OHL with myriad awards plus 44 goals and 120 points in his final 47 regular-season games. He was the league’s most valuable player in the playoffs, the Canadian Hockey League’s scholastic player of the year, as well as the player of the year. He also won a gold medal at the world junior hockey championship.
In short, he excelled at every level, but no wit’sa new league with new challenges.
The 18-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., figures he is ready, although he said he needs to put in even more time in the gym this summer to get stronger and faster.
“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,” McDavid said. “But there’s a lot of pressure on me coming from the outside, (so) I try not to put too much internal pressure on myself just because there’s already enough of that out there.”
McDavid will head home to Ontario for a few days, then report to Edmonton next week for the team’s development camp, which runs from July 1-6.
He will step into a spotlight that won’t dim soon.
“It’s something I can’t really worry about,” McDavid said. “I just have to make sure I’m playing my game. There’s so much to be excited about.”