EDMONTON — Taylor Hall has lived the life that Connor McDavid is embarking upon.
So, who better to house the Edmonton Oilers young phenom with then the nearly 24-year-old Hall, who has for the past five seasons been that big fish in a small Edmonton pond?
There is no school that can teach you how to be Hall or McDavid in Edmonton, Sean Monahan in Calgary, Nazem Kadri in Toronto, Mark Stone in Ottawa, Bo Horvat in Vancouver or Alex Galchenyuk in Montreal. Just ask Evander Kane in Winnipeg — sometimes 20-somethings don’t handle the spotlight with perfection.
As a reporter we’ve heard the unfounded sightings of Hall at this club, or Hall out with that girl. Like it would be any different for any of us if we were multi-millionaires before our 24th birthday.
But as word leaked out that McDavid will move in with Taylor Hall and Luke Gazdic — first reported by the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons — judgy hockey fans across Canada felt compelled to weigh in on whether that was a better living arrangement for McDavid than the nuclear family scenarios in the homes of Andrew Ference, Ryan Smyth, Matt Hendricks or even Kevin Lowe.
“I’m with them for now, just until camp. Then I’ll be at the hotel with all the rookies. Then we’ll see what happens,” said McDavid, who is unwilling to entertain any timeline that presumes he will still be with the Edmonton Oilers after they break camp. He is literally that humble.
“I think I’ll do most of the cleaning,” he said of the living arrangements. “I can’t really bring much else to the table, so I’ll be in charge of the cleaning.”
There is a dynamic here, and it starts with Hall. Even though the Oilers front office people were not ready to speak on the topic of McDavid’s permanent residence on Tuesday — leaving an impression that nothing is written in stone — we believe this is viewed by the Oilers as a major opportunity for Hall to come of age.
This is the Oilers saying to Hall, “You say you’re ready to become a true leader on this team? Well, here are the crown jewels. Take McDavid, and lead by example.”
The Oilers brass are trusting Hall with McDavid, and in turn they hope to be rewarded by the further maturation of Hall as he takes a young player under his wing.
It must be said that any pro hockey player who has not played a meaningful NHL game past about Dec. 1 in his entire career — like Hall — is very likely to show his face a tad more often on the local social scene, than he might if the games actually meant something. So this scenario presents a challenge for Hall: The Oilers are planning on giving him meaningful games to play in early in 2016, and they expect his appreciation of that newfound responsibility to rub off on McDavid.
It’s a pretty safe bet, as McDavid appears to be more mature than half the 24-year-olds in the NHL already.
“From everything I’ve seen,” began Ference, the Oilers captain, “he’s mature beyond his years, without a doubt. He’s a very, very mature … man, really. He’s pretty grounded. As good as he is on the ice, just talking to him, seeing how he acts, getting Scholastic Player of the Year… That, to me, is life stuff. He is pretty impressive.”
Another element is Gazdic, who resided with Hall last season. He is that heavyweight who is beloved in the Oilers dressing room, but he must find a way to carve a regular spot in the lineup in 2015, when fighters are all but extinct.
Remember, this town has a history of pairing one of the toughest guys in the game with one of the game’s best players, dating back to the days when Dave Semenko patrolled Wayne Gretzky’s left wing. Semenko took care of Gretzky all over town, not just at the rink, a role Gazdic is more than honoured to assume.
“(Protecting McDavid) is something I’m definitely going to try and do,” Gazdic said on Tuesday. “I’m not sure I’m going to be playing first-line left wing with him, but I just want to make sure that when he’s out there on the ice he knows (intimidation) isn’t something he has to worry about. There aren’t too many guys who’ll be taking runs at him, and if they do, there is going to be a price to pay.
“Off the ice, it’s about making him familiar with the town and staying away from some of the extracurricular things that you can get involved in.”
Hall isn’t in town yet, so Gazdic did the cooking for he and the rookie Monday night.
“He’s an awesome guy, and he’s taking care of me pretty good. Last night’s supper was very good,” McDavid said.
I always say, I’d be more worried about young men like McDavid, Hall or Gazdic if they weren’t getting after it once in a while, getting a phone number or hanging with the boys at the pub. And McDavid seems a million miles removed from that kid who would let his social life impinge on his game.
“He’s a Greater Toronto Area kid, we’re both Erie Otters guys,” observed Gazdic. “I’m only going into my third year in the NHL, but this is my seventh year pro. I like to be a calming influence and someone that, when we go back to the house we can turn that hockey world off and (he can) just be a regular kid. Just talk about everything else other than hockey. Get his mind off of it a bit.
“For the time being he can just put his feet up and relax when he gets away from the rink.”
On the day that Steven Stamkos pronounced McDavid to be a better player than Stamkos is right now, that might be difficult.
“Pffft,” said McDavid, dismissing the notion outright. “That’s obviously one of the nicest compliments, but I don’t think that’s really true.”
We can’t wait to find out.