Connor McDavid tries to follow the standard advice for young athletes.
“Don’t read about yourself at all,” he said. “I’ve been trying to do that as much as I can because it will get in your head that you’re too good, or bad press can also get in your head and do negative things for you. I just try to stay away from reading about myself.”
There is one obvious exception. His Twitter feed.
“Whenever the Sabres lose my Twitter kinda blows up,” McDavid said. “Fans are talking about me and stuff like that. … It’s a little bit different and I really can’t explain it. It’s pretty cool.”
The 17-year-old has been on the hockey world’s radar since he turned 15. He’s been compared with Sidney Crosby. He’s the projected No. 1 pick in the NHL draft next summer.
He has Sabres fans content (some even gleeful) at suffering through a bad season for the mere chance at drafting him.
Buffalo gets the chance to see the phenom at 7 tonight when First Niagara Center hosts its first Ontario Hockey League game between McDavid’s Erie Otters and the Niagara IceDogs.
McDavid, who turns 18 on Jan. 13, has spent the last two seasons in Erie, honing his talent away from the harsh media glare were he to play with a Toronto-based junior team. Last year he netted 99 points (28 goals, 71 assists) in 56 games.
This season he has 25 points in the first nine games (eight goals, 17 assists).
So what makes Connor McDavid so special?
“He’s got tremendous skills. His hockey IQ is off the charts where he can see things others don’t,” Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said. “But I think with his skills and his hockey IQ what’s really sets him apart is he’s able to do that an incredible speed. His skating is very fast, and he’s able to execute those things at the speed he’s going. I think that really separates him.”
That speed is what teammate Dylan Strome talks about when asked about playing with McDavid. The puck could be in the defensive zone and next thing you know, the explosive McDavid has skated off on a breakaway.
And his speed means his teammates had better be ready.
“He can get the puck on his stick,” Strome chuckles, “and get it off in a matter of instants. And when you play on a line with him … you’ve got to be ready for the puck at any time because before you blink your eyes, he’s going to be around the D and giving you a pass in the slot. You’ve got to be ready for it. You’ve got to create space because he does so many great things. Once you get to an open area, he’s going to find you.”
Jay McKee, the former Buffalo Sabre and current assistant coach for the Erie Otters, called McDavid a “generational player. He has the potential to be as good as any player who has played the game.”
Perhaps one of the reasons is because McDavid is fully aware of the areas in which he falls short.
“I think I have a long way to go,” McDavid said. “My defensive game has to get better. You have to kind of round off all parts of your game. Today to play in the NHL you have to be a full 200-foot player and do all the little things right. Right now I would say I’m not that. I think I have a long way to go, but another year working with Kris and all the coaches, another summer of getting bigger and stronger, we’ll see what happens.”