After Connor McDavid stepped off the ice at TD Arena, the first thing he did was sign autographs for the fans stretched over the railings. Given the potential of the 18-year-old’s career, that autograph will be worth a considerable amount in the future.
McDavid and his high-octane Erie Otters visited Ottawa on Feb. 1 to take on the 67’s and junior hockey’s number-one ranked prospect lived up to his incredible reputation. McDavid had three assists on the afternoon and the Otters rolled to a 7-2 win.
“You just try and contain him,” said 67’s head coach Jeff Brown. “He’s obviously a dynamic player. I mean, he’s just so good, he’s fast, he plays with his head up, he never looks down. The hockey sense is just… kids like that don’t come around very often. You just try and contain him the best you can but obviously we couldn’t, just like almost every other team.”
The game marked the first sellout of the year for the 67’s, and was also broadcast nationally on Sportsnet. It came on the tails of Erie selling out in Kingston on Saturday and Peterborough on Thursday. The whole province wants to catch a glimpse of the player who is drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby, before it costs the price of admission to an NHL game.
But McDavid said the team has adjusted to the circus that follows him and teammates around.
“We’re kind of used to it now. This weekend’s been kind of crazier than ever, three sold-out barns and some good teams,” said McDavid. “You know teams are going to be getting up to play us, and that’s to be expected. We’re a good team and they want to play hard against us.”
For an away game, the Otters and McDavid received tons of support. A collective roar went through the crowd the first time the dynamic forward got the puck on his stick in open space. There were “oohs” and “ahhs” every time he attempted to sidestep a defender. And even when a move didn’t work, McDavid never quit on a play, battling to the end to get win possession back.
“It’s definitely challenging, he’s a guy you’ve got to watch out for,” said 67’s forward Travis Konecny, who played alongside McDavid at the CHL Top Prospects game. “That whole team has that roll, and they’re all dangerous. It was an important game for us to keep all those guys shut down tonight, but we couldn’t keep him off the score sheet. He played well.”
As fast as McDavid looks on TV, the 6’1 centre from Newmarket was even more jaw-dropping in person. Often tearing through the neutral zone untouched, his speed and quick hands gave defenders fits all afternoon.
“Man is it nerve racking,” said defenceman Jacob Middleton, who faced off against McDavid for the second time this season. “You’re taught to always look at the chest and stick on the puck. You think you’re doing everything right when you go out there against him, and he somehow finds a way to make you look like you’re a minor hockey player. He’s an exceptional player as we all know but it’s pretty exciting to play against him at the same time.”
“By no means is he overrated. I had to ask him a couple times to slow down as a joke,” he added.
To go along with all the physical tools he possesses, McDavid also has an uncanny sense for where his teammates are on the ice, which was on full display when he found Kurtis MacDermid on a back-door pass for his third assist of the afternoon.
He has the knowledge and sense of a 10-year pro. He is even well-versed in dealing with the media, as the low-talking teen uses clichés and preaches team efforts in every interview, just like a veteran.
With 72 points in only 28 games McDavid is having his best season yet, in his third year in the OHL. McDavid entered the league early thanks to a special player exemption that had only been granted to John Tavares and Aaron Ekblad before him. Both those players went on to be drafted 1st overall in the NHL Draft, and it will be no surprise when McDavid follows suit at the draft in June.