SUNRISE, Fla. — The time between the NHL draft lottery and Friday added up to the longest 69 days of Connor McDavid’s life. Waiting the final few minutes before getting drafted felt like an eternity, too.
“They had to introduce everyone and all the teams and the roll call, it just felt like it was going by so slowly,” McDavid said. “All I wanted to do was just have that pick called.”
At 7:18 p.m. Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli made the announcement that was more than two months in the making. Like any other pick, Chiarelli selected Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters.
But this wasn’t any other pick. McDavid is considered hockey’s “Next One” in the lineage of Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, and now he begins the Oilers chapter of his career.
“It’s an exciting time to be an Oiler and I know the fans are excited, and they should be,” McDavid said. “Now that it’s finally happened and I’m an Edmonton Oiler, I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Newmarket, Ont., native called the experience of being selected better than he expected. Anxiety more than nerves marked the night.
During the day, McDavid was at ease with a nice breakfast with his parents and even some jet-skiing.
When it was finally his time to get up from his seat, the 18-year-old finally felt a sense of relief. Wearing a baby blue tie, McDavid took off his suit jacket, strode onto the stage and first shook commissioner Gary Bettman’s hand as fans cheered and thanked Chiarelli for taking him.
“That was an easy one,” Chiarelli said.
McDavid put on the Oilers’ brand-new WHA-inspired orange jersey with his trademark No. 97 on the back and shoulders. Blue and orange has been on the shelves in Erie already, and it’s about to be in fashion again.
“It means a lot for them to do that,” McDavid said. “To see 97 when I flipped that jersey around was special.”
After an incredible junior career that included 285 points in 166 games, McDavid can now shift his focus to professional hockey.
While acknowledging that it’s a big jump from the Ontario Hockey League to playing against men, the humble superstar added the caveat that he has to work to make the team. That won’t be an issue, as McDavid joins the core of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 but do have a bright future with McDavid. Chiarelli said Friday morning he has continually reminded himself since April that he needed to temper expectations for the phenom.
“He’s such a good player, so you’re going to hear me temper expectations for a long time,” Chiarelli said. “He’s going to have his ups and downs. He’s a terrific player, he’s going to really help our franchise when he gets up and running.”
McDavid knows the pressure and what to expect. But rather than temper expectations, he wants to raise them.
“I think my expectations of myself exceed any of those that are put on me,” he said. “if I’m meeting my expectations, chances are I’ll meet your guys’.”
The reality is McDavid immediately became the face of the Oilers’ franchise.
The second pick, Jack Eichel, just as instantly became the poster boy for the new-look Buffalo Sabres, who also acquired goaltender Robin Lehner and forward Ryan O’Reilly at the draft. This is a unique year because Eichel is also considered a generational talent.
Eichel takes his talents to Buffalo after being the top college player in the United States at Boston University.
“Just looking back on the entire year, it’s been the best year of my life,” Eichel said. “This just really caps it off. You hear a lot about the draft and everything that goes on here, but until you hear your name called and you go on stage and put a jersey on, there’s nothing like it.”
After weeks of listening to offers, Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney kept the No. 3 pick and took McDavid’s good friend and Otters teammate Dylan Strome, the dynamic centre who led the OHL in scoring.
The Toronto Maple Leafs took London Knights forward Mitch Marner fourth, and the Carolina Hurricanes selected Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin to round out the top five.