By now you’ve most likely heard of Connor McDavid, dubbed the “LeBron James of Hockey” by USA Today Sports. The Newmarket, Ontario native has earned himself the title of a “Next One” – an elite, exclusive group of players who are expected to be close to modern-day equivalents of Wayne Gretzky. This group includes Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, and Phil Kessel (before a dropoff in his pre-draft production ruined his Next One status). Many say that Mario Lemieux would have been on this list as well if he had been drafted after Gretzky’s retirement, rather than playing at the same time as Gretzky. To be in a class with these current and former NHL greats can weigh heavily on a young 16 year-old’s conscience and affect him on and off the ice – but McDavid isn’t like most 16 year-olds.
In the 2011-2012 season, McDavid caught the attention of everyone – that is, everyone who hadn’t already known about the center, which was a select few – when he scored 79 goals and 130 assists for a total of 209 points in just 88 games for the Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget AAA Team in the Midget League. He then scored 72 points (33G, 39A) in 33 games for the Marlboros in the GTMMHL. McDavid was an alternate captain of each team and looked like a man among boys in the GTMMHL – though remarkably, those “boys” were all older than him.
McDavid was granted exceptional status, allowing him to be drafted into the OHL as an underage player at just 15 years old. He joined yet another exclusive group of players in doing so, since only John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, McDavid, and Sean Day have been drafted as underage players. McDavid went first overall to the Erie Otters in the 2012 OHL Priority Draft, leapfrogging 2014 prospects Roland McKeown, Jared McCann, Josh Ho-Sang, Robert Fabbri, Michael Dal Colle, and Sam Bennett; such a feat is so incredible because McDavid is not eligible to be drafted into the NHL until 2015.
McDavid has had an amazing junior career to date so far, scoring 37 goals and 79 assists for 116 points through 94 games for the Otters across two seasons. He was named MVP of Team Canada at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament when the team won gold. He also won the OHL top rookie award following the 2012-2013 season and was named to the OHL First All-Rookie Team. McDavid, wearing #97 in Erie and #17 internationally, has made it look easy thus far, playing against guys years older than him.
It is expected that McDavid will make the U-20 WJC Canadian Team this year – a team that includes Sam Reinhart, Jonathan Drouin, and plenty of other top Canadian players. The last 16 year-old to do so was Sidney Crosby, making McDavid a very special player. Having grown up idolizing Crosby, McDavid has modeled his game after arguably the best current NHL player. A very talented playmaker, McDavid is a pass-first player but he can also score goals. He makes playing hockey look effortless.
McDavid could realistically have a record-breaking point total in his final junior season (2014-2015), and is guaranteed to go #1 overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. Jim Nill, General Manager of the Dallas Stars, had extremely high praise for the Next One:
I guess you could say he is kind of The Next One. Every so many years [a player arrives like] Gretzky, Lemieux. I think he is making a statement. Is he [the next Sidney] Crosby? I think he is the next guy. He has elite vision. He has the ability to play the game at any speed and he dictates what the speed is. He can slow it up and he can speed it up. He does whatever he wants.
The last time Sidney Crosby had competition of this caliber was when he and Alex Ovechkin made their NHL debuts at the same time in 2005. He quickly erased any notion that Ovechkin was better than him, essentially forcing Ovechkin to become 1A behind himself. Now it may be Crosby who is the 1A, this time behind the heralded Connor McDavid. It will be fun to watch how high the young forward can push himself in the NHL.