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Connor McDavid ready to bring superstar swagger back to Edmonton


Oilers forward Connor McDavid, who was selected first overall in June’s draft, is being touted as the next superstar in the NHL. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Next Thursday, in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, it’s showtime for the kid who wears his birth year on his back.

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.

The teen from Newmarket, Ont., says right now he is just focusing on his next shift.

“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.

Because of McDavid, it has become the most anticipated season in the Alberta capital since the Wayne Gretzky era.

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.

He comes with eye-popping junior scoring numbers (285 points in 166 games), and leaves hardened hockey observers groping to explain how he does it.

He seems to accelerate while he’s gliding, a shinny grandmaster who sees the game in slow motion, with eight gears and eyes in the back of his head.

He’s a product of the Age of Instant Messaging, where hundreds of thousands can and idolize and pulverize their heroes in real time, sometimes in the same news cycle.

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.

So McDavid, understandably, plays a verbal neutral zone trap in media scrums, delivering bullet-proof generalizations in low-talker tones.

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 playing the University of Alberta Golden Bears in an exhibition game, he said, “It will be fun.”

Asked about his first game against NHL veterans, in a split squad game in Calgary, he said: “It was fun.”

But for a kid who talks softly, he wields a big stick that likely catalyzed the longed-for demolition and renovation of a carnival franchise that has missed the playoffs for nine consecutive years.

Oilers introducing new management

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.”

Former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson was made head of hockey and business operations.

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.

CBC | Sports News

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