CHICAGO — Mark Messier knows a thing or two about life as a young star for the Edmonton Oilers.
So when he met Connor McDavid for the first time on Monday he offered a little bit more than a handshake and a hello. In fact, Messier shared some advice while grabbing a quick bite with McDavid and a couple other top prospects who were in town for the Stanley Cup final.
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“Listen, I’m not trying to cram 40 years of experience down into one five-minute brief meeting, but I think it is important for him to know that he can say ‘no’ sometimes,” said Messier.
It’s a lesson he learned from Wayne Gretzky during their early years with the Oilers. No matter how many media or sponsorship or fan demands No. 99 faced, Messier said that he always found a way to be the most prepared player on the ice come game time.
McDavid has been living in the spotlight all year and still managed to score at a torrent pace in the Ontario Hockey League and win a gold medal with Canada at the world junior tournament.
He is the NHL’s most hyped prospect in some time, but Messier was blown away by how grounded the 18-year-old seemed.
“My first impression was just incredible,” said Messier. “What a fine young gentleman, very down to earth. Very honoured — genuinely so — honoured to be in the position that he is.
“I think the thing that struck me the most is how well-versed he was in the history of the game and how much appreciation he had for the players that have carved the path for these young kids.”
Perhaps the biggest difference McDavid and his peers will face from Messier’s era is the amount of scrutiny they’re under. Social media is an animal the young 1980’s Oilers didn’t have to contend with while building their dynasty.
Messier chuckled and said it would have been “interesting” if they had. But he doesn’t expect it to be a problem for McDavid.
“I think if you’re just being yourself and honest (you’ll be fine),” said Messier. “Social media and the amount of attention, it is what it is. Listen, we’re not expecting these kids to be 10-year veterans on Day 1. I think everybody expects them to make mistakes and that’s part of the maturation process — not only as a hockey player, but we’ve got to expect them to make mistakes off the ice too.
“God knows we made millions of them.”
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That’s ultimately why he believes Edmonton will be a good landing spot for McDavid once the Oilers use the No. 1 selection on him a little more than two weeks from now. The city has been through this before with Gretzky and the organization knows how to handle the hoopla.
“If they pick him they’re picking an incredible hockey player, an incredible kid that’s going to an incredible franchise with an incredible and rich history of championship hockey there,” said Messier. “So it would be an amazing partnership.”