Wednesday night’s Erie Otters vs. Niagara IceDogs game at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center was a very special one for Connor McDavid.
For starters, it was his first-ever game in an NHL arena, something most underage players will never experience during their junior careers.
He knew NHL scouts, media, and other personnel made up a good portion of the 12,000-fan turnout.
He also kept in the back of his mind the fact that this could have been his first of many games at First Niagara Center in a gold and blue jersey, but next time it would be a different color scheme – that of the Buffalo Sabres.
It’s pretty weird to think about. Whenever the Sabres lose, my Twitter just kind of blows up, fans kind of talking about me and stuff like that. I guess it contradicts what I’ve been saying about [not] reading about myself. It’s a little bit different. I really can’t explain it. It’s pretty cool.
– Connor McDavid
McDavid scored one goal and three assists in the Otters’ 8-4 win, impressing all those in attendance. All three assists came in the first period, and two of the three goals he assisted on were generated by him alone. Though he failed to get on the stat sheet during the second period, McDavid scored his ninth goal and 29th point of the season in the third. He also pulled an amazing finesse deke on Niagara defender Vince Dunn and almost scored on goalie Brent Moran, but he just got his pad on the puck in time.
. @MattMEdwards sent this. @cmcdavid97 from tonight. Not a goal, but it shows how fast McDavid plays. #ottersauce http://t.co/UMFmeSGvOX
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) October 23, 2014
I was a little bit fortunate to just one-hand it around the guy. If I didn’t make it, I don’t think coach would be too happy about that. I was fortunate, but it turned out to be OK.
Though it didn’t result in a goal, the short Vine shows just how fast McDavid is, as well as how fast his hands are and the kind of pure skill he has. It’s this skill that has Erie assistant coach and former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee calling McDavid a “generational player.” Otters GM Sherry Bassin (who recently made a Twitter – @bassinhockey) recalled the first time he had ever watched McDavid, three years ago in Toronto when McDavid was still playing midget hockey:
It was like a 9 o’clock game, minor midget game, and everybody’s talking about him. The guys say, ‘Wait until you see this guy.’ When puck dropped, he takes it like from a standing still start. It’s a like a sprinter coming out of the box.
Of course McDavid was the main attraction at First Niagara during the game, but eleven other players recorded at least one point in the Otters’ win. You wouldn’t even know it though, seeing as how the crowd was loudest whenever McDavid’s name was announced for registering a point or for being in the starting lineup. The fans in Buffalo are hoping McDavid can be their own Sidney Crosby – the “Next One” who can lead a cellar-dweller team to a Stanley Cup championship in just a matter of years.
[Click here to see full game highlights]
But fellow 2015 top prospect Dylan Strome registered two assists in the win, while 2016 prospect-on-the-rise Alex DeBrincat had two goals and one assist. That trio is like the Penguins’ offensive core of Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz.
Beyond that, Buffalo already has a first-line capable center in Sam Reinhart, so adding McDavid would be like adding Crosby to a core that already contains a Malkin. The similarities to Crosby and the Penguins show how McDavid is following the same career path as his idol. The skill, elite vision, playmaking abilities, and leadership all add to the parallels between he and Sid.
McDavid recently told the media he doesn’t believe he’s a lock for the Canadian World Junior team, implying that he has to earn his spot like everyone else in a show of humility – something Crosby would probably say. However, Bassin knows he deserves to be there, telling reporters that if he doesn’t make it, “they shouldn’t even play.”
Otters GM Sherry Bassin on if Connor McDavid was playing in the NHL now: "I think this year he would get 60 points."
— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) October 22, 2014
Always looking ahead to the draft, McDavid may start to feel the pressure soon, especially since he is the most highly-touted in ten years since Crosby’s draft year.
I’ve been kind of texting [Florida Panthers defenseman] Aaron Ekblad and [Calgary Flames forward] Sam Bennett, just getting their thoughts on what their idea of the draft year was. I guess it gets a whole lot worse from here is what they’ve been saying. It hasn’t been fun. It hasn’t been bad, I guess.
Obviously the only thing McDavid can control and the only thing he should focus on right now is the present. Yesterday may have been a glimpse at his future home arena, and it gave him an idea of what playing in any NHL arena at all will be like next fall when he is playing for an NHL team. But the Otters remain his main priority at the moment, and the Sabres or whichever team that drafts him can wait. But that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy the hype while it lasts, he just needs to avoid letting it get to him. Buffalo’s current 30th place ranking probably won’t change much over the next few months, so fans have a right to be excited, as emphasized by Erie assistant coach McKee:
The fans here should want a guy like that, they should tweet him. It’s pretty unique because you don’t find players of his capability very often. It’s not every year in the draft that you can find a guy like that.
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