SUNRISE, Fla. – Connor McDavid wasn’t in solitary confinement before the NHL Draft on Friday night. He wasn’t in a hermetically sealed bubble, or wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam. Although these would all be reasonable ways to protect a human investment.
He’s a commodity now, after his name was called by the Edmonton Oilers and he was handed a bright orange sweater with his No. 97 on the back – not the customary No. 15 the other, non-Chosen-One draft picks were handed to signify their draft year. But in the hours before the draft, he was an 18-year-old kid on a beach vacation with his family.
“We had breakfast together. Did some jet skiing with the family.” said McDavid. “It was a little bit stormy out there. Not the safest thing to do.”
OK, so a generational talent could have been lost at sea hours before he was selected first overall. But let the kid have his fun.
Because from the moment his name was announced, Connor McDavid stopped being Connor McDavid and became CONNOR MCDAVID. Big letters, in lights, shining above the ice.
He’s Hockey McJesus. He’s the best draft prospect since Mario Lemieux, creating absolute magic with the puck in ways few others have in their junior hockey careers. He’s the harbinger of the next Oilers dynasty. He’s a transformative star for the NHL. He’s someone our grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about having the honor and privilege of having seen grace the rink.
And anything short of that will, of course, be a disappointment.
Who in their right mind would wish for this sort of thing?
Who in their right mind would want to be Connor McDavid?
Aaron Ekblad was Connor McDavid last year. Sorta.
“I’m not nearly as good as him, so I didn’t draw those comparisons,” said Ekblad, the Calder Trophy winner and the top pick in last year’s draft by the Florida Panthers. “Connor isn’t shy about stepping up and meeting expectations. And that’s all going to be something to live up to. But Connor has his own set of expectations, and that’s all he’s going to worry about.”
The Panthers defenseman gave McDavid some advice. But not much.
“He acts like a pro. He knows he’s going to be a pro next year. He handles it so well. There’s not much you need to say to a guy like that,” he said.
Ekblad went at the top of the draft. That carries its own expectations. Some players would rather not have them.
“Like my dad always says, flying under the radar is good. It helps a little bit. You can surprise people with the things that you can do,” said Dylan Strome, who went No. 3 in the draft on Friday to the Arizona Coyotes. “But it’s different for each person. For Connor, he likes putting those expectations on himself. He likes challenging himself. People say those things, it only makes him stronger.”
Strome admits that the constant expectations placed on McDavid – comparisons to legendary players, predictions of legendary achievements – could be difficult for a different type of person to handle.
“I think some guys like him are used to that kind of praise. He’s had it since he was 15. That he was the best player to come into the CHL since Sidney Crosby,” he said. “And now he’s the best player to come into the draft since whenever.”
McDavid hates waiting.
The start of the draft “felt like it was going by so slowly,” he said. The roll call of the teams. The Oilers taking all three minutes to saunter up to the stage when they probably should have been standing in back of Gary Bettman, tapped him on the shoulder when he said they were on the clock, pushed him aside and yelled “MCDAVID!!!!!” into the mic.
“I didn’t know how I was going to feel. I wasn’t too nervous. I was just anxious,” said McDavid, his right leg bouncing along with his words as he spoke.
There was a time when some assumed McDavid’s emotion before getting drafted by Edmonton would be dread.
There was that picture from the draft lottery.
McDavid, having seen Edmonton’s card pulled as the lottery winner, looking like he had just been told he’d be having a root canal without anesthetic while a rabid weasel gnawed on his foot.
You know, that look.
“Someone took my picture at a bad time, I guess. They got my bad side,” he said. “I was never upset. I was just more in shock than anything else. Now that I’m an Edmonton Oiler, I couldn’t be more proud.”
But that’s what happens when you’re Connor McDavid. Every look is scrutinized. Every word parsed. Every play over-analyzed. Every stat through into hyperbolic context.
“I think it would be cool to be him for, like, a couple of days,” said Mackenzie Blackwood, a Barrie Colts goalie in the 2015 NHL Draft pool. “Just to see what it’s like. I’m sure there’s a point where he just wants to be like ‘enough is enough, leave me alone.’ It would probably pretty cool for a while.
“But I have such respect for him, because he’s such a great guy. A lot of guys would let it go to their head. He hasn’t.”
Which is to say the answer to our query – Who in their right mind would want to be Connor McDavid? – is answered quite simply:
Connor McDavid does.
“My expectations of myself exceed any of those put on me,” he said.
“It’s something I can’t really worry about. I just have to worry about playing my game. If I’m meeting my expectations, chances are I’m meeting yours as well.”
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