McDavid ready to take next step on way to first NHL regular season game

 

 
 
 
 
Connor McDavid makes his way to a press conference after fitness testing during the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp at Rexall Place on Sept. 10, 2015.
 

Connor McDavid makes his way to a press conference after fitness testing during the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp at Rexall Place on Sept. 10, 2015.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

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The star of the show finally emerged from the Edmonton Oilers locker-room at Rexall Place — his new hockey home — following a mandatory round of medical and fitness tests in advance of the Young Stars Classic.

He didn’t look any worse for wear.

Nor did Connor McDavid, who is carrying the hopes of a city on his 18-year-old shoulders, look concerned about what lies ahead.

The Young Stars rookie tournament, which gets underway Friday in Penticton, B.C.’s South Okanagan Events Centre, marks the start of McDavid’s journey towards his first NHL regular season game. After the tournament, which wraps up Monday, he is expected play in the annual rookie game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears on Wednesday at Rexall Place before reporting to the Oilers’ main training camp.

“It will be fun. Obviously, Penticton is part of the process, so it’s good to finally get it started,” McDavid said on Thursday, a few hours before the players were ferried to the B.C. interior. They will play their first game at 8:30 p.m. MDT Friday against the Vancouver Canucks rookies.

“I feel as good as ever in terms of moving and how my body feels,” he continued. “It was a good summer. There was a lot of stuff to do, but that’s part of it. I really wouldn’t want it any other way.”

For players like Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and Greg Chase, this is not their first go-round, but it is their first camp as professionals. They won’t be returning to their junior teams this fall; they will head to the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., if they don’t make the Edmonton roster.

Unlike McDavid, the first pick overall in the NHL entry draft in June, at least all three have been through the camp drill before.

“With Connor here, it’s amped up. Times two. It’s pretty special to be a part of it,” said Chase. “One day I’ll be able to tell my kids that I got to play with Connor McDavid at Oilers camp, which is a pretty cool experience.”

Chase was a teammate — briefly — of McDavid’s at Canada’s world junior summer development camp in 2014 and spent some time with him at the Oilers’ orientation camp in July, fostering a kinship that continued through the summer months.

“I have nothing but good things to say about that guy,” said Chase. “He’s a world class hockey player and even a better guy. That’s something special.

“The way he handles himself, whether it’s with the fans outside the rink or just being noticed anywhere he goes (is impressive). I know I’ve been to a few places with him where I didn’t think he’d be recognized, but he was and he handles it very well. He’s very mature for his age.

“I guess being that big of a star growing up has helped him in that way,” Chase continued, “but it’s definitely impressive to watch. You learn a few things just from watching him.”

The players who have attended the rookie camp in the past know that the Young Stars tournament provides a chance to get up to game speed in advance of the main camp. For the newcomers, it’s a chance to make a first impression. For McDavid, it’s more time in the spotlight.

Two years ago, Nurse, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenceman who was selected seventh overall, was the big name at the Oilers rookie camp; last year, Draisaitl was the focus of much of the attention. Drafted third behind Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres, the centre played 37 regular season games with the Oilers before he went back to the Western Hockey League for a Memorial Cup run with the Kelowna Rockets.

Now it’s McDavid who is another league. He’s already been labelled the first generational player since Sidney Crosby caused comparable waves around the league with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006.

“The hype is about him right now and rightfully so. He’s Connor McDavid,” said Draisaitl. “I don’t mind it at all.

“I don’t think I need to talk about him anymore. I think everybody knows what he’s all about, but it’s always nice to see a guy like him play. He does something special every time he’s on the ice.”

Kyle Platzer, drafted in the fourth round in 2013, said what struck him about McDavid is his humility. If he has a chance to play on a line with young star over the next few days, all the better.

“Who wouldn’t want to?” he asked.

Young stars, old foes 

The fifth annual Young Stars Classic gets underway Friday in Penticton’s South Okanagan Events Centre with the Edmonton Oilers rookies facing off against their peers from the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and host Vancouver Canucks.

  • Oilers vs. Canucks, Friday, Sept. 11, 8:30 p.m. (MDT)
  • Oilers vs.  Flames, Saturday, Sept. 12, 8:30 p.m. (MDT)
  • Oilers vs. Winnipeg, Monday, Sept. 14, 12:30 p.m. (MDT)
  • They said it

    “Any time you get into one of these camps, you want to impress, whether you’re a 17-year-old going back to junior or you’re in my position and trying to earn a spot on the team. You want to give it your all.” — Greg Chase

    The luck of the draw

    A combination of limited seats and high demand means that Oilers fans who planned to head to the NHL team’s training camp next week will need a ticket to get through the door to see rookie Connor McDavid and his teammates practice.

    The team announced Thursday that the Leduc Recreation Centre will be the site of its training camp from Friday, Sept. 18 to Sunday, Sept. 20, with each session starting at 10 a.m.. Anyone who wants to attend training camp must enter a priority draw at EdmontonOilers.com. The draw closes at noon Wednesday, Sept. 16. Each pass will allow two people to watch one day of the three-day camp in Leduc.

    When is the Oilers training camp?

    Friday, Sept. 18: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. On-ice practices

    Saturday, Sept. 19: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. On-ice practices and scrimmages

    Sunday, Sept. 20: 10 a.m. – 2p.m. On-ice practices and scrimmages

    Note: schedule is subject to change

    jireland@edmontonjournal.com

    Twitter.com/jirelandEJ

     
     
     
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    Connor McDavid makes his way to a press conference after fitness testing during the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp at Rexall Place on Sept. 10, 2015.
     

    Connor McDavid makes his way to a press conference after fitness testing during the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp at Rexall Place on Sept. 10, 2015.

    Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
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