NEWARK, NJ – Taylor Hall, 24, and Connor McDavid, 19, are housemates this season for the Edmonton Oilers. And when they’re in that house, they tend not to talk about the Edmonton Oilers.
“When we’re there, we’re not talking about hockey at all. Just normal guys. It’s good to get away from hockey a little bit,” said McDavid.
His roomie said it’s not exactly a hockey-free zone.
“Hockey’s always a topic. We both love the game, love to watch it. But certainly you try to get away from it,” said Hall. “Edmonton can be a little bit of a fishbowl. Always in your face. Always on TV."
McDavid and Hall room with a bigger fish in their bowl: Luke Gazdic, 26 and 192 career penalty minutes. Along with being someone who makes sure no one tries to enter the house and slash them on the wrists at night, he apparently knows his way around the kitchen, said McDavid.
“Hallsy doesn’t cook. Gads does. He’s a great cook.”
The players eat Chef Gadzic’s meals. They watch some movies. They rarely fire up the Xbox. “We haven’t played too many video games. We stick to cards,” said Hall.
“We play a game called 7 Up, 7 Down. We play Go Fish,” said Hall. “Wait, no, not Go Fish. Crazy 8s, sometimes. That’s fun.”
Just three professional hockey players, including two first-overall picks, sittin’ around, playing Crazy 8s in their house and getting away from the spotlight. In other words, exactly what coach Todd McLellan hoped would happen when McDavid and Hall started rooming together.
“I think it’s essential,” he said.
To McDavid’s credit, McLellan said, he sought out that arrangement. “We had families available for him. But he wanted to be treated like everybody else.”
As for Hall, McLellan said, “I think Taylor showed very good leadership skills in inviting him into his world, and sharing his experiences as a No. 1 pick coming out of junior. What he thought it would be like. What it actually was like. Handling the media. Playing in Edmonton. I know away from the rink he’s been able to manage [McDavid's] fitness and his nutrition and rest, too."
Hall hasn’t always been synonymous with “good leadership.” Part of that stems from the Oilers’ lack of success as a team, and Hall being its face. But there are also reports from just two years ago that Hall “in the room not on the ice, hasn’t been what they hoped he would be,” according to Darren Dreger in Dec. 2014.
Now, Hall has stepped up and is building an important bond with the team’s dynamic rookie.
“It’s been good with Connor and I. Been able to teach him things. You know, it’s tough when you come to a new city. There are bills to pay. Apartments to take care of. It’s been easier for him to just move in, not worry about any of that stuff,” he said.
Hall’s been impressed with McDavid, in comparison to himself and other young players with the weight of expectations on them. “I think defensively, in his own end, he’s surprised some people on this team with how he’s adapted. It’s not easy in this League being an 18-year-old centerman, playing against the best players every night. He’s handled himself well there,” he said.
What about another similarity between the two: While Taylor had Tyler Seguin as a rival born from their draft positions, McDavid had Jack Eichel, selected No. 2 overall. Any talk of that rivalry?
“That’s something you guys make up,” said Hall. “I don’t think that’s something Connor thinks about before he goes to bed every night. Connor’s a competitive guy. I’m sure he wants to do well. But it’s not to beat Jack Eichel. It’s to do well for his team and himself.”
McDavid is doing well. He has two goals and four assists in his four games back from a broken collarbone. “You just try and do your best to prepare. Luckily with collarbone injuries, you can still skate. I was on the ice for a month and a half before I played my first game back,” he said.
His motivation now is trying to will the Oilers to the playoffs, against all odds. He’s not, however, thinking of the Calder Trophy race, or how many points he’d need to reenter it.
“No, I don’t think about it like that. I missed a pretty significant amount of time. I’m trying to have as good a rest of the season as I can, and leave the rest of that to the guys who determine who wins it,” he said.
Whatever McDavid ultimately accomplishes in his rookie season, McLellan’s seen enough to know he’s going to be a special one.
“You can have the speed and the skill, but you have to have the brain to match it. I’ve seen players that can skate 100 miles per hour and stickhandle and then you put them in a game and they’re nowhere to be found. Paul MacLean used to call them ‘Morning Glory’. You’d watch them in the morning and go ‘wow,’ and then you watch them at night and you don’t even know if they play,” he said.
“Connor has the mind to match the skillset. A brilliant mind.”
Which comes in handy during Crazy 8s, no doubt.