McDavid goes No. 1 with Crosby-like hype
Sunrise, Fla. — Connor McDavid's favorite hockey player is Sidney Crosby. His favorite non-skating athlete is LeBron James.
He's now in their club, forever to be known as a No. 1 pick.
McDavid's journey toward widely expected NHL superstardom officially began Friday night when the Edmonton Oilers grabbed him with the top overall selection in the draft. No player has entered the league with such hype since Crosby a decade ago, and McDavid's level of celebrity within the game already may rival what James was dealing with when he joined the NBA in 2003.
"It was even better than I expected," McDavid said. "It's so exciting to hear your name called. It was unbelievable."
Crosby and James proved the buzz surrounding them was worthwhile, and now McDavid now gets his turn. The Oilers haven't reached the playoffs since 2006, a far cry from when Wayne Gretzky dominated the NHL and Edmonton won five titles in a seven-year span from 1984 through 1990.
No pressure, Connor.
"The Edmonton Oilers have such a historic history," McDavid said.
He's their future.
"We're lucky to have him," Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said.
Buffalo took Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel of Boston University with the No. 2 pick, another no-surprise move. Eichel had 26 goals and 45 assists in 40 games this past season.
"I think Buffalo is heading in the right direction, as a team and as a city," Eichel said. "There's a lot of positives and I want to be a piece of the puzzle. Buffalo wants success and they want success soon and it's going to happen."
Fans from across the league — at least their jersey choices suggested so — were in South Florida for the festivities. Many endured long lines to pose with the Stanley Cup (some with Phil Pritchard, the keeper of the Cup). A group of Edmonton men wore matching McDavid No. 97 jerseys. A few from Buffalo wore "I like Eich" T-shirts, a nod to the 34th U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
They knew who the first two picks would be.
The rest of the evening was a guessing game.
Arizona used the No. 3 pick on center Dylan Strome — McDavid's teammate with the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters, finishing this season with nine more points but in 21 more games. Toronto took Mitch Marner at No. 4, making it four straight centers to lead off.
Defenseman Noah Hanifin went No. 5 to Carolina, so with Eichel that meant two U.S. players were top-five picks for the first time since 2007. Center Pavel Zacha went sixth to New Jersey, defenseman Ivan Provorov seventh to Philadelphia and Columbus grabbed defenseman Jack Werenski with the eighth pick.
For Werenski, who doesn't even turn 18 until next month, it's an odd pairing: He's a Michigan Wolverine who's going to the home of Ohio State.
A pair of right wings rounded out the top 10, Timo Meier to San Jose and Mikko Rantanen to Colorado. That meant left wing Lawson Crouse, who some thought would be a top-five pick, fell to Florida at No. 11 — and got a huge ovation from the Panthers' crowd.
"It all turned out very well for me," Crouse said.
Dallas went with another right wing, taking Russian prospect Denis Gurianov at No. 12. And then the next 15 minutes or so belonged to Boston.
The Bruins had the No. 14 pick starting the day — then got the No. 13 and No. 15 selections in a pair of trades Friday. They sent left wing Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for defenseman Colin Miller, goalie Martin Jones and the 13th pick, then got No. 15, No. 45 and No. 52 from Calgary for defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
The Bruins took defenseman Jakub Zboril, left wing Jake DeBrusk and right wing Zachary Senyshyn.
"The cap system in the NHL makes it tough to get good players," DeBrusk said. "I think the moves they made were good. They're making strides — I mean, we are making strides."
The New York Islanders weren't scheduled to pick until No. 72, but swung two deals to land first-round talent. They got the 16th pick from Edmonton and took center Mathew Barzal, then made another swap with Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay for No. 28 and snared forward Anthony Beauvillier.
For the first time since 2012, a goalie went in the first round when Washington took Russia's Ilya Samsonov at No. 22.
Chicago, which won the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons, didn't have a first-round pick. The Blackhawks won't select until the draft's final six rounds are held Saturday.
Regardless of what anyone did, the lights shined brightest on McDavid.
A year ago on draft night, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad was a nervous wreck. This time around, fresh off returning from Las Vegas where he was presented the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie this past season, Ekblad coolly munched on chicken fingers in an arena suite.
He knows McDavid well, and believes the Gretzky, Crosby, whoever comparisons won't affect him.
"I'm lucky. I'm not nearly as good as him. I don't draw those comparisons," Ekblad said. "It's going to be tough to live up to but Connor has a set of expectations for himself and I'm thinking he's probably the only one who's going to worry about that. He's not worried about anyone else's expectations."