Connor McDavid. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are brand new to hockey in the last few months, it’s a name you’ve heard all too often when it comes to the top prospects for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The young phenom, currently with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, has been related to many current NHL stars, including Sidney Crosby. In fact, some scouts have touted McDavid as better than Crosby at this point in his career. On Thursday, October 30th, against the Plymouth Whalers (which boasts highly touted Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Sonny Milano), McDavid notched his 200th point in just 132 games. Obviously McDavid has bigger things that concern him right now, but it’s still a major accomplishment.
“No, I didn’t know that,” said McDavid on his 200th point. “It’s pretty cool. I heard the announcement. I didn’t really realize it was coming close, but it’s awesome.”
The soft-spoken McDavid is a team player. He doesn’t hog the puck, but instead makes the players around him better. At times, it seems like he has eyes in the back of his head. Of his 207 points in 133 games, 140 of those are assists.
“I just read where I think guys are going to go,” said McDavid on finding teammates. “That comes with chemistry and being able to feel pressure and remembering where guys are going to be on the ice.”
While he possesses ridiculous speed and ability to make plays happen, something that completely sets McDavid apart from his OHL players is his vision and awareness. At times, it seems like the game is playing through in slow motion for him. With just 14 games played in the young 2014-15 season, McDavid has already racked up 42 points (14G-28A). He likens his performance to time and experience.
“It kind of just comes with time and experience of playing in the league a bit more and being able to see plays develop a little bit differently,” said McDavid on how his vision has developed over his career.
Two seasons ago, the Erie Otters were bottom feeders of the OHL. It’s been a tremendous turnaround for the organization and McDavid has played a huge role in it. The team is finding ways to win.
“To be a good team in any league, you have to win all types of different ways,” said McDavid on the team’s resilience. “We can be a run and gun kind of team or be very physical. The team is showing ways we can win.”
While McDavid, as any good leader does, credits his entire team to the Otters’ success, head coach Kris Knoblauch knows how pivotal the young forward from Newmarket, Ontario is to his team.
“Every time he’s out there, he creates a lot of offense,” said Knoblauch. “He’s always involved in all or the majority of the offensive opportunities. The shorthanded goal was certainly exciting. When someone needs to step up, he will. That’s why he’s our best player and that’s why he’s our captain.”
Dylan Strome, a teammate of McDavid, is in his second season with the Otters. Strome doesn’t get to play on a line much with McDavid, but they create a lethal power play unit together. Strome, who is also slated to be a first round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft gives McDavid just as much credit as coaches and media tend to give him.
“He’s the greatest player I’ve ever played with,” said Strome. “He’s something special every time he gets the puck. At one point he could get the puck on the blue line standing still and the next thing you know he’s on a breakaway. He breaks away with speed and is going to put the puck in the net more times than not.”
At one point in the game against Plymouth, McDavid received the puck near center ice while on the penalty kill. With his explosive speed and vision, McDavid split three Whalers, deked the goalie and scored on the back hand. If you want to see a player than can make any fan, coach or member of the media drop their jaw in awe, McDavid is the one.
While he’s definitely aware of what lies ahead this summer, McDavid has the goal of a championship in his head. He’s confident that this Erie Otters team is more than capable.
“Coach does a great job of goal setting with us and he made it clear that we did lose some guys and that it could be a different year, but that’s not how we wanted to be,” said McDavid. “We did still believe that we could win. We had some great returning players and great signees like [Alex] DeBrincat. It’s a different Otters than we had last year, but it’s an effective one still.”
It’s no wonder that McDavid is often compared to Sidney Crosby. Love him or hate him, Crosby is a leader and can produce. He makes his teammates better and that’s why he’s one of the best in the world. It’s not necessarily Crosby’s play that McDavid idolized while growing up, but more of how he handled himself under pressure.
“My hockey idol would be a guy like Sidney Crosby,” said McDavid. “He’s always under the spotlight and did such a great job of handling it and you never see one bad thing about him.”
Every player has their critics, but it’s tough to argue about Crosby being one of the best. Something that Crosby hasn’t accomplished, at least that has been publicized, is making a puck explode. The legend will continue to grow, as McDavid accomplished this feat in practice. The reserved future super star simply shrugged it off.
“It was just kind of a silly thing,” said McDavid. “I was just coming down, shot the puck and it came off the crossbar and exploded into a few pieces, which you don’t really see too often. Maybe it was just a bad puck.”
Bad puck or not, exploding a puck only excited fans of struggling teams even more. It’s too early in the NHL season to know which team will have their chance to take McDavid at first-overall. One of the teams that could have that opportunity is the Buffalo Sabres. Their home rink, the First Niagara Center, played host to the Erie Otters and Niagara Ice Dogs on October 23rd. 11,000-plus fans showed up to watch McDavid take ice and it was an amazing experience for him.
“It was pretty special,” said McDavid on playing in the First Niagara Center. “It was a little glimpse of playing in the big leagues and incredible. It was a great event. The number of people that came out and the facility we got to use was first class. Then you got brought back to reality when you hop on the bus for 11 hours to the Soo [Sault Ste. Marie] right after that.”
That reality check will only last for the rest of this season. Next year, McDavid will be a young star on a team looking to turn things around and he’ll be an excellent center piece to make that happen. Get ready to continue hearing his name for years to come. Talent like this only comes around once a generation.
If you have the chance this season to get to Erie, Pennsylvania, head over to the Erie Insurance Arena and catch these young NHL stars in the making.