For those lucky enough to have seen forward Connor McDavid play with the Toronto Marlboros on a regular basis, there was no question about his ability. So on Wednesday, when the Ontario Hockey League announced that the 15-year-old had been granted “exceptional status” to join the league a year early, not many were surprised.
“There’s no other way to say it, the kid’s good,” said one OHL scout who has watched McDavid perform his magic in the Greater Toronto Hockey League close to 30 times this season. “Skill wise he’s off the charts, you just can’t take your eyes off him.”
The application process was administered by Hockey Canada and a special evaluation committee. According to Phillip McKee, executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation, the panel’s decision to grant McDavid exceptional status was unanimous based on a number of factors including schooling, skill level and psychological evaluation. The biggest question for the panel was whether McDavid’s development would be impaired by playing another season of minor midget.
“Unanimously the committee supported Connor in moving forward to major junior hockey and that it would impair him to stay back,” said McKee. “It’s a great opportunity to develop his personal skills and his hockey-playing skills at the major junior level.”
Last weekend the native of Newmarket, Ont., helped the Marlies reach the final of the OHL Cup, where he was named as the tournament’s most valuable player with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in seven games despite his team’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Mississauga Rebels in the championship game. He was also named the GTHL’s player of the year after scoring 33 goals and 39 assists for 72 points in only 33 games with the Marlies.
“It was a pretty long process, but definitely an exciting one,” said McDavid of his application. “I’m tremendously excited for the draft and for next season. The season ended (for the Marlies) on Sunday, but if the (next) season could start tomorrow, I’d be thrilled.”
The Erie Otters have the top pick in the April 7 OHL draft after finishing 10-52-3-3 in the Western Conference this season. When asked directly whether he would report to the Pennsylvania-based team, McDavid had nothing but good things to say about the franchise, but would not commit to a definitive answer.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to potentially go to Erie,” said McDavid on a conference call with reporters. “Like I said before, I’m very looking forward to the OHL draft and whatever happens there happens and we’ll move on from there.”
When pressed again on whether he would report to the Otters, McDavid’s father, Brian, jumped in to answer on his son’s behalf.
“Connor is very, very excited to be where he is today and having received the exceptional status designation,” said Brian McDavid. “He’s looking forward to the draft. We don’t know for sure where Connor’s going to be drafted, I think there’s lots of speculation on that, and once that day comes we’ll move forward at that point. So, I don’t know how to answer it other than that.”
McDavid said his schooling and billeting were among his top priorities when making the decision on whether to report to an OHL team like Erie.
“We have to still talk to the Erie Otters organization and I don’t think we can make a decision until that happens,” said Kelly McDavid, Connor’s mother. “It’s very difficult to answer that question (on the decision making process).”
The Otters franchise has been surrounded by talk of relocation after reports the city of Hamilton, Ont., were reportedly interested in bringing the team to town. The Otters, however, recently signed a two-year lease extension at the aging Tulio Arena, which is in the process of being renovated. A player of McDavid’s stature could very easily become the face of the struggling franchise, whose 10 wins were the lowest in the Canadian Hockey League during the regular season.
“He’ll get a lot of ice time (in Erie),” said the OHL scout. “That’s always one of the biggest concerns, especially when you’re developing.
“This is the kind of player that can attract people; people are going to want to watch (McDavid)… it should help them.”
The McDavid family acknowledged they had recently been on a trip to Erie, Pa., to see a game and the team’s facilities.
“We met with (Otters GM and owner Sherry Bassin) and some of the Otters organization,” said Brian McDavid. “We had a great visit with Mr. Bassin at that point in time, but again at that point in time, Connor wasn’t granted the status exemption. It was a visit just to see things and again, when we get to the draft depending on how things shake out at the draft, we’ll decide from there.”
If there was one concern about McDavid’s application, it might have been his size - he’s currently listed as a very generous 5-foot-11, 170-pounds.
“He’s not a big kid,” said the scout. “But he’s not a small kid, it’s just that he hasn’t grown yet… I think his (older) brother is a lot taller, so there is still room for him to grow.”
McDavid becomes the third player to be granted exceptional status under the rule, joining the likes of NHLer John Tavares and Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad. Prior to the “exceptional status” designation, players like Jason Spezza and Rico Fata, were allowed to make the jump from minor hockey into the OHL as long as they were playing in their hometown before being eligible for the draft.