Gretzky was at lunch with some of the Oilers and said seeing Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse tease each other about such things as strength of passes reminded him a lot of when he, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey used to dine together while on the dynastic Oilers of the 1980s.
"I remember I left lunch and I said to my wife, ‘You know what? This team is so much closer to winning than people understand because these guys are so close and they want to win so badly for each other, and I love that,'" Gretzky said Wednesday on the Real Kyper and Bourne show on Sportsnet 590 the Fan. "It's important in the locker room to be on the same page.
"To me, that’s even better when in the locker room these guys are all on the same page. And I feel watching the Leafs play that they have that same camaraderie."
Gretzky, who stepped down as vice chairman of the Oilers to take his current role as an analyst with American network TNT, had a lot of praise for his former team. In particular, he liked the dynamic Oiler power play, run by McDavid, that was so good "I don't know how you defend against it."
The Great One also weighed in on how the Leafs can succeed while having two highly skilled players in Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews adapt their games in order to complement one another. Bottom line: Let them be who they are.
"Mark Messier used to say it's about scoring goals as a group," said Gretzky, talking over the phone from suburban St. Louis, where he was cooking a pre-American Thanksgiving turkey. "I remember getting three goals in a game and the way Mark Messier was, you would have thought he had scored the three goals.
"For the Leafs, Auston Matthews is the goal scorer, and that's fine. Mitch Marner is the playmaker, and that's fine too. That's the way it's going to be for the Leafs. Mitch Marner is a great player and important for the success of their hockey club."
Gretzky was also asked about seeing Los Angeles Lakers great LeBron James get into a dust-up with Isaiah Stewart of the Detroit Pistons, to get the perspective of one superstar on another doing something slightly unusual.
"When you’re the guy and you’re the man, sometimes you do something a little bit off from what people expect you to do," said Gretzky, who won four Stanley Cups. "You’re fighting to win, you'll go through people, you'll go around people. ... He’s fighting for his plays, maybe he got emotional. ... We all get physical at some point. I even got into a fight with Neal Broten. It happens, right, every now and then you lose your cool or your temper. I’ve seen him enough to know that was against his nature."