CALGARY — Milan Lucic leaned comfortably against a table in the Calgary Flames dressing room, talking about his time on the other end of the Battle of Alberta, when someone asked if a front-row seat watching Connor McDavid for three seasons had taught him anything.
"I learned what I’m not capable of doing myself," he said, before joining the rest of the scrum in a self-deprecating laugh.
While McDavid wears the captain’s ‘C’ in Edmonton, and Leon Draisaitl an ‘A’, it was widely known that Lucic helped both develop their leadership skills. That wasn’t supposed to be the legacy Lucic left in Edmonton, but, as it turns out, it’s likely worth more than you’d think.
With a Hockey Night in Canada battle set for Saturday night — McDavid’s first return to the building where he suffered that major knee injury in Game 82 last season — the Oilers captain looked back at his time with Lucic, who sat next to him in the dressing room, more often as counsel than as his left-winger.
"We’re different guys," McDavid said. "He’s a little bit more vocal, and he’s been around a long time. He can say some things, he’ll tell you how it is.
"He’s just a pro who knows how to carry himself each and every day. That’s something I learned from him."
Lucic learned early on that he wasn’t going to teach McDavid much about playing the game. Running a National Hockey League dressing room, however, that’s a different story.
"I kind of just let him do his thing, trying to support him from the leadership standpoint when I was there more than anything. I didn’t really give him too much advice as far as what he should do with the puck or without the puck or on the PP," Lucic said.
How would Lucic define McDavid’s leadership style?
"He was more of a positive type of guy. He wants to lead the way and wants guys to go with him," Lucic said. "He’s not the guy that comes in and says, ‘You need to be better, you need to be better…’ He’s the type that’s more of the positive, everyone-come-along type of guy."
Today and for the foreseeable future, McDavid and Draisaitl will be the core of the leadership group in Edmonton. That means there will always be a little piece of Lucic inside that Oilers room.
"He’s won," said Draisaitl. "His preparation, his passion for the game… He just loved it so much. He’s had a great career, and you learn from guys like that. He was awesome with all of us."
Lucic watched as the two young Oilers found their way as letter-wearing players. They both came a long way, though we would submit that neither McDavid, who turns 23 on Monday, nor the 24-year-old Draisaitl have reached the point in their career where they are a Mark Messier-like presence inside the room.
"To be honest, I would say Leon is probably more direct and harder on guys than Connor is," Lucic said, "but they’re both positive in their own ways."
Draisaitl chuckled at that assessment.
"It’s not Connor’s personality to yell at someone — to yell at anyone, in any way," said Draisaitl. "Sometimes something needs to be said, and sometimes it needs to be said in a more direct way. And sometimes it has to be said in a not so direct way.
"Looch, he had that balance of when to step up and say something in a direct way, or maybe a not so direct way."
Lucic and the Flames were enjoying a dinner at Ditka’s Restaurant in Chicago on a Flames dads trip earlier this week when they all saw McDavid score that wicked goal in Toronto. Lucic simply shrugged.
"When I saw that, I wasn’t even surprised that he pulled it off," Lucic chuckled. "He did exactly what he was trying to do. He was baiting the guy, and as soon as (Morgan) Rielly crossed his feet over, boom. He goes the other way and it was in the net."
Playing against McDavid Saturday night will be cool, though Lucic’s advice ended there.
"I’ve seen guys shadow him, and he finds a way to score. I’ve seen defencemen try to skate forward with him, and he still finds a way to score," he said.
"That’s what makes him a generational player."