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The artifacts from McDavid's endless practice sessions are everywhere around the family home. The swatch of plywood left unprotected by the barrier looks as if it had been set upon by a family of woodpeckers. Two goals in the backyard are now just dented iron and punctured mesh—one net lost its middle support bar after being struck with a blistering shot. The cans used for the obstacle course still sit near the garage wall.
McDavid's devotion to practice paid off. Orr noticed the boy's hands during a camp sponsored by his agency, The Orr Hockey Group, in Aurora, Ont., three years ago. McDavid was the youngest of 35 invitees, and Orr quickly zeroed in on the boy who was flipping pucks over sticks, making them land flat so he could recover them, then pivoting and repeating the drill in the other direction. "I couldn't believe those hand drills" Orr recalls. "I couldn't have done them. Really little guy, but pop-pop-pop, he just had a feel for it." When McDavid spotted a sign on the sideboards, he wristed pucks at the letters, one-by-one, then did the same with his backhand.
McDavid is a superstitious creature of excessive regimentation. On game days he wakes at the same time; eats scrambled eggs and a banana for breakfast; packs his equipment bags in the same order, pads and jock on the outside first, warmups in the middle last; goes through the same stickhandling drill; and tapes exactly one stick, always while staring at the ice. "Don't try to make him go out of order," warns Cameron. "It's not fun." On a drive a few years ago to a game in Burlington, Ont., Brian played a burned CD of songs that included Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" and "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden. After Connor scored four goals in the game, Brian had to play the same CD on each subsequent trip. "When I scratched the CD from all the play, I had to make a new one," says Brian. "Same songs. Same order."
Before a regional tournament game in Quebec in 2009, Connor at first declined to have his picture taken with Lemieux because it would disrupt his pregame routine. "I had to carry him out of the locker room to get the photo," Brian recalls. Before Canada's first game at the U18 worlds last month, Connor took a sip of coffee from teammate Morgan Klimchuk's cup. McDavid had a goal and two assists in a 4--1 victory over Slovakia, so he returned before the next game, against Germany, for another sip. "But you hated it!" said an incredulous Klimchuk, an 18-year-old forward. For the remaining five games of the tournament, Klimchuk saved his first sip for McDavid.
McDavid considered waiting to play U.S. collegiate hockey rather than foregoing his NCAA eligibility by joining the OHL, but the two intervening years would be a waste. "Who would he play against before he turned 18?" asks Sherwood Bassin, the Erie G.M. who drafted him in April 2012. "[For him] it would be like playing checkers against a two-year-old." So McDavid moved in with a host family in Pennsylvania and took online courses until he could resume regular 10th-grade classes back home. He scored 66 points in 63 games for the Otters, was the OHL's rookie of the year and surely led the league in interviews and autographs. "Even with all the attention, he still unloads the bus with the other first-year players," says Kris Knoblauch, Erie's coach. "He never asks for star treatment."
Still, the perks and pitfalls of stardom have already come. McDavid has an endorsement deal with Reebok, which began courting him at age 12, when he gave his first newspaper interview. His parents have had to get Facebook and Twitter to take down fake accounts. When Cameron was sitting in an economics class this year at Western University in London, Ont., where he is a sophomore, he saw two students in front of him watching YouTube. "The kid's amazing," one said as he gazed at highlights of Connor.
Nearly every video compilation of McDavid's on-ice exploits includes his favorite goal from last season, which came in a 5--2 loss to the Sarnia Sting on Oct. 27. On the play he intercepted a pass in the high slot, deked on the backhand to his right, around Sarnia defenseman Connor Murphy (the Coyotes' first-round pick in 2011), then swooped back to his forehand, leaving both Murphy and goalie J.P. Anderson sprawled on the ice in opposite directions. "You kind of make one move as you're thinking about the next one," he explains, watching the goal on his laptop. "You see things you can try." McDavid has a solid if unimposing frame, but his stickhandling skills in traffic are dazzling. And he has become adept at swiping pucks off foes' sticks.
Even with McDavid, the Otters again finished last in the OHL's Western Conference. As the season trudged on, the kid got encouragement from some esteemed sources, all doing their part to look out for hockey's future. In February, Lemieux, the Penguins' owner, invited McDavid to watch a game in his private suite in Pittsburgh. Islanders center John Tavares and Oilers center Sam Gagner called to remind him how badly they had struggled as NHL rookies. And this winter, as McDavid was getting into a car with friends—his license allows him to drive only with another driver in the car—his cellphone rang with an area code he didn't recognize. "Connor, it's Wayne Gretzky," the voice said. McDavid was unsure if a friend was punking him.
"Let Connor be a 16-year-old," pleads Orr. "Time will tell if he puts a stamp on the game."
Perhaps that stamp will be McDavid's magic hands, matching Orr's majestic rushes, Gretzky's eagle-eye passes, Lemieux's power, Lindros's physicality and Crosby's balance. The game is eager for the day it gets to look behind the wall.