Hockey dad Curtis Joseph noticed the kid from his hometown was something special since novice.
Watching the development of Connor McDavid skate alongside the second born of his three sons for years in minor hockey, Joseph hopped on the McDavid bandwagon earlier than most.
“You could tell he was a phenom,” the legendary goaltender says of June’s certain No.1 selection. “You could see he was head and shoulders above everybody else. Now, you never know if they’re going to fizzle out; you can’t predict the future. But any team that tried to cover him… couldn’t. He just exceeded expectations always.”
Joseph helped sponsor his son’s team and got to know McDavid’s parents, Kelly and Brian, who coached the boys of the York-Simcoe Express, the Triple A program of Newmarket-Aurora. CuJo still hangs onto a mug signed by all the young players.
“I always tell people I know him because he’s the No. 1 prospect in the world. That’s hard to do,” says Joseph. “Even going into junior, he had all this hype, but he was great the first year and even better the next year. He exceeded everybody’s expectations, always does. So going into the NHL, I’m sure there will be [calls of], ‘Oh, he can’t be that good.’ He just does it.”
The undrafted Joseph, 48, and McDavid were both born in Richmond Hill, Ont. They are separated by 30 years and about 211 draft slots, their paths to the league starting in the same town but taking off at vastly different speeds.
McDavid’s Erie Otters are off to face the Oshawa Generals for the OHL championship, and all the 18-year-old has done is put up 42 points in 15 playoff games this spring.
Any perceived pressure lumped on McDavid, Joseph says, is just sloughed off his shoulders. Even as a nine-year-old, McDavid had his game face on.
“All business. All business,” Joseph describes McDavid’s approach in minor hockey. “He’s a focused individual. All that talent and very focused. I’m a big believer in him. I think he’s a great kid, the kind of talent that only comes around once a decade.”
Joseph was thrilled to see McDavid heading to the Edmonton Oilers, one of his six former teams.
“I love that he’s in Canada. Playing in Canada, you realize how much the team matters, how much the game matters. They’re going into a new building right downtown. The timing is great. I think he will be a quiet leader on that team and force everyone to be better. He’s the kid who comes in and propels everybody,” Joseph says.
So, what type of coach should the Oilers seek to guide a future superstar into the league?
Joseph scoffs, then smiles.
“He doesn’t need a coach,” CuJo says. “He’s never needed a coach. He’s that kind of player. I think he’s a low-maintenance guy. Just open the door.”
Bonus Beat: CuJo’s take on Detroit’s goaltending controversy
Although Jimmy Howard, who entered this season as Detroit’s No. 1, is signed through 2018-19 at a salary cap hit of $5.292 million, the veteran surrendered the starting role to the younger, cheaper Petr Mrazek for the playoffs. Both goalies will compete for the net going into 2015-16 training camps. Joseph, who played two seasons for the Wings, has been following the situation.
“It’s hard for Howard. Obviously the other guy’s got talent and he’s young [Mrazek is 23]. It seems that pressure doesn’t bother him. In the playoffs they chose the hotter Mrazek, and it happens all the time. Sometimes the guy who thinks he’s No. 1 and may be the better goalie must take a step back. This kid is good, real good. I’ve watched him. There’s a lot of parity with goalies in the NHL now.”