Connor McDavid — with his No. 97 jersey, soft hands and otherworldly playmaking skills — will suit up for the Oilers season opener against the Blues and take his first step toward fulfilling predictions as hockey’s Next Big Thing.
“I’m just worried about each and every day here, trying to get better and prove to the coaching staff and management team what I’m all about and making sure I’m earning their trust,” McDavid told reporters in training camp.
You knew Edmonton was cuckoo for Connor just days after he was drafted No. 1 overall in the June entry draft, when 3,000 people showed up in the heat of July to cheer him on as he stretched and shot pucks into an empty net at Rexall Place.
Like in April, when the NHL draft lottery ping pong balls fell, the Oilers beat the odds and won the right to pick McDavid. The camera found McDavid and he seemed to be not overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Just, well, whelmed.
The Twitterverse exploded with interpretations of the non-expression. He doesn’t like Edmonton. He does like Edmonton. He will report. He won’t report.
The default phrase is “fun.”
“It will be fun,” McDavid said when asked about last month’s rookie tournament in Penticton, B.C.
Asked about his first game against NHL veterans, in a split squad game in Calgary, he said: “It was fun.”
In that time, Oiler coaches and general managers came and went like the autumn leaves. Owner Daryl Katz was dismissed as a fan boy from the team’s glory years reluctant to part ways with ex-stars like hockey operations boss Kevin Lowe and general manager Craig MacTavish.
In training camp this season, longtime Oiler Jordan Eberle admitted that the constant setbacks had taken their toll and that winning gold at the recent World Championships made him feel less like “a loser.”
Nicholson hired as general manager Peter Chiarelli, who had built the Boston Bruins into a Stanley cup winner. Chiarelli in turn hired ex-San Jose head coach Todd McLellan, the most sought after bench boss of the off season after Mike Babcock.
The scouting staff? Sacked. The assistant coaches? Out. Chiarelli began wheeling and dealing to address the team’s weak spots in defence and in goal.
Can the Oilers avoid a 10th consecutive season out of the playoffs? The consensus among observers is no. Even coach McLellan isn’t hyping it, telling reporters, “We’re not going to talk about playoffs here. We’re going to talk about foundation.”
It may not be the playoffs.
But it will be fun.