The NHL in 2020 bears little resemblance to the one Wayne Gretzky played in during the ’80s and ’90s, with seemingly every aspect of the game evolving in the decades since.
So, if The Great One was dropped into today’s dynamic, speed-heavy chaos, who would he pick to man his left and right wings?
That was the question posed to No. 99 by Erie Otters defenceman Jamie Drysdale on Friday during a #HockeyAtHome call between Gretzky and a group of the top prospects heading into the 2020 NHL Draft. Gretzky understandably took a moment to mull his options.
“There’s so many good players, that’s a tough question,” he told the young guns with a laugh, “because you have guys like (Sidney) Crosby and (Auston) Matthews and (Mitch) Marner and (Alex) Ovechkin, Connor (McDavid) and (Leon) Draisaitl.”
In the end, it came down to a fellow Oilers great, and a fellow prolific sniper.
“For me, probably Connor — because of his speed, he would open up the ice — and Ovechkin, because if we get him the puck, you know he’s going to hit the net or at least have the chance to score. Those two guys would be fun to play with. That was a good question.”
Between No. 97’s historic speed, The Great One’s all-time vision and The Great Eight’s knack for scoring from seemingly anywhere on the sheet, it’s fair to assume opposing defenders and netminders wouldn’t find that trio quite as fun.
The NHL’s all-time leading scorer recently elaborated on his high opinion of Ovechkin during the pair’s own #HockeyAtHome call in April (the full of length of which is embedded atop this post).
“I can remember five years ago people saying to me, ‘Do you think Alex Ovechkin should be two minutes on the power play’ and I remember saying, ‘Of course! He should be out there the whole power play every power play,’” Gretzky told Kathryn Tappen at the time. “That’s what he does. He generates offence and he generates plays for each and every one of his teammates. I said this to my son the other day: They know exactly where he’s gonna be, they know exactly what he’s gonna do, and he still scores 60 goals a year.
“That’s special. I admire him. I love watching him play and I think he’s been a huge impact on our game to the positive.”
He was no less effusive in his praise of McDavid, who now wears the ‘C’ in Edmonton as Gretzky himself once did, when the two sat down to discuss their careers for GQ Sports last month.
Past the on-ice dominance, The Great One pointed to the way McDavid’s managed to navigate life as a blue-chip prospect in today’s pro-sports and media age.
“I was under a microscope, but I still had so many people saying, ‘Well we’re not sure. You know, he’s a good player but wait til he gets to the next level’ or ‘wait til he gets to junior hockey’ or ‘wait til he gets to pro hockey.’ So I had these doubters that really fuelled my fire, really pushed me to go to another level. Your pressure came from within,” Gretzky told McDavid during that discussion. “Having to be successful and live up to the expectations because people would say every night, ‘Is this guy any good? I’ve got to see this kid play at 15 or 16’ and each and every year, you’ve gotten better and delivered.
“I don’t think people realize the pressure and the microscope that guys like you and Sidney Crosby and Mario [deal with] when they come into the league. It’s a lot harder than people think.”