It was near the end of the first period when it happened.
What everyone who came to First Niagara Center on Wednesday night was eager to see.
His team shorthanded, Connor McDavid picked up the puck, exploded through the neutral zone, then weaved the puck around the defender to go in one-on-one with the goalie. He didn’t score. But it didn’t matter. It was electric.
Speed and vision. Those are McDavid’s claims to fame. And all aspects of his game were on display in front of 11,391 as the Erie Otters defeated the Niagara Ice Dogs, 8-4, in an Ontario League Hockey matchup.
He finished with a goal and three assists. The likely No. 1 pick in next summer’s NHL draft has been called a generational player. With a strong possibility of McDavid landing in Buffalo in the draft, fans came out to see the young superstar and he didn’t disappoint.
“It’s not a whole lot of thinking that you’re doing,” is how McDavid described his game and that play in particular. “If it is thinking, often times you’re going to get caught. It just has to be instinct. And that’s something I think I may have. … It’s just creativity and looking to try different plays.”
Then again, it’s not a total absence of thinking. When pressed, McDavid talks through his process on that head-turning play.
“You get the pass and obviously you know,” the defenseman is there, McDavid said.
“He had a good step on me. I tried to shake him a little bit and burn him wide but he stayed with me. You take one hard step and now he’s gotta commit. He commits and as soon as he lunges forward, you try to cut back. I wasn’t necessarily looking to try and go through his feet or anything like that. I think I was more trying to go through his stick because I thought he might have been lunging forward a little bit. It just went through his feet.”
It’s the type of “wow” play people have come to expect from McDavid.
But McDavid also had a complement of talented teammates who have been putting on an offensive show through the first 10 games of the Otters’ season. It was the second time this year the Otters have scored eight goals in a game. They’ve scored seven goals in two other games, too.
Rookie Alex DeBrincat scored twice. So did Kurtis MacDermid. Dylan Strome had two assists and goaltender Devin Williams turned away some excellent scoring opportunities by the IceDogs.
It’s one of the marks of McDavid’s success. The 17-year-old with incredible skill, vision and speed is also a teammate who makes everyone else not only better, but feel valued. And the coaching staff doesn’t treat the superstar any differently, especially since McDavid is getting his first stint as a penalty killer this season.
“If he makes a mistake we let him know,” assistant coach and former Buffalo Sabre Jay McKee said. “I remember a game in Saginaw … he took a penalty while we were already shorthanded. It was a penalty that he shouldn’t have taken and that was addressed in front of all the players.
“So he is an exceptional player. He leads by example. He does all the right things but he is human. He does make mistakes and like every other player we correct him as well.”
McDavid told the fans after the game that he’d love to come to Buffalo.
Well, first things first – he’d love to play in the NHL. Whichever team drafts him, McDavid will be all smiles on draft day. But if it is Buffalo?
“The fans are incredible,” McDavid said. “For 11,000-plus to come out to watch a junior hockey game, it just kinda speaks to their love for hockey and their passion. …
“The fans in Buffalo have been great to me. If I was fortunate to play here it would be unbelievable.”