Connor McDavid’s first summer as an NHL star came to an early close, but fans who are eager to catch their next glimpse of the Edmonton Oilers phenom aren’t complaining.
Before McDavid gets to his second NHL season, he’ll be showcasing his skills for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto beginning September 17.
McDavid, the 2015 first overall pick, is no newcomer to international competition. The native of Richmond Hill, Ontario has suited up for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship, two World Junior Championships, and most recently at the World Championship this past May in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Unlike his previous international experience, the World Cup will be played ahead of NHL training camp in September, as opposed to mid-season or following the end of his season. It’s had little effect on McDavid’s off-season preparation, though.
“The [tournament] structure doesn’t affect my approach at all,” McDavid told Sportsnet. “I just started my regular season training about a month earlier than usual…I just have to peak a little bit earlier.”
The tournament presents a unique opportunity for McDavid and his North America teammates. Canadians and Americans will be on the same side as the squad will be made up of the best 23-year-old players and under from the continent.
It’s a chance for some of the game’s brightest young stars to skate in a pseudo best-on-best tournament when they otherwise may have been excluded from their country’s respective roster. McDavid is joined by the likes of Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel, Florida Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad, Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau, Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, and 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I know a couple other guys that are going to represent North America and they all say the same thing, they’re excited about it, and they’re excited about the team we have. We definitely have a lot of talent and a lot of speed, so I think we could make a real splash in this tournament. I think we’re going to surprise some teams.”
While Team North America will offer a unique look at the future of the NHL on one roster, it will also offer a peek at things to come for Team Canada and Team USA.
“The Canadian guys are pretty familiar with each other having grown up through the system together,” McDavid said. “I’ve played with Aaron Ekblad a few times, and I’m excited to play with him. It’ll be different having Americans and Canadians together on one team, but I’m looking forward to getting to know them.”
While NHL fans have many years to compare McDavid to 2015 No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel, this year’s World Cup could be the only chance to see them line up alongside each other in a competitive atmosphere. Any sense of rivalry, however manufactured, has been cast aside.
“Jack Eichel is someone that is, you know we’ve been linked together for a while, kind of pegged as rivals, which is not really the case, but I think it would be cool to experience, you know, being able to play with him and all that,” McDavid said.
McDavid has a slight advantage heading into the tournament. Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan will be behind the bench for Team North America, so McDavid is stepping into a familiar situation.
“Having Todd as the coach is nice in the sense that I won’t have to learn the system, I kind of already know it,” he said. “It’s ingrained in my game so I think I’m lucky, I can use it to my advantage.”
A broken clavicle limited McDavid to 45 games in 2015-16, but the 19-year-old still tallied 16 goals and 48 points to become the first rookie to average a point-per-game since Evgeni Malkin did it in 2006-07. McDavid’s next act begins with a starring role on the World Cup’s most intriguing team.
Team North America takes on Finland in its tournament opener on Sunday, September 18.