A PERIODIC LOOK AT SOME OF THE MOST INTRIGUING DRAFT PROSPECTS
Tucked in the crevice against a side wall of a garage in the Toronto suburb of Newmarket are the baubles of genius, a deep vein of tennis balls and plastic pucks. The nook was born of necessity, after brothers Connor and Cameron McDavid had pummeled the wall into submission by using it as the backstop for their shooting practices. A few years ago their father, Brian, built a thick reinforced-plywood barrier in front of the battered drywall, and the three-inch gap between the two now holds a rich deposit of the errant shots that have ricocheted and settled there ever since. "Imagine what's behind that wall," says Connor. Adds Cameron, who at 20 is older by four years, "Someday we'll look back there and find a treasure trove".
In 2015, when Connor, a 5'11", 175-pound center, is eligible for the NHL draft, some lucky general manager is liable to feel the same way. In the 47 years since an 18-year-old Bobby Orr joined the Bruins, hockey's teenage game changers have come out of Canada at fairly regular intervals of once every decade or so: Wayne Gretzky (1978), Mario Lemieux ('84), Eric Lindros ('92) and Sidney Crosby (2005), iconic prodigies who not only lifted their teams but also the game itself. "Connor is a cut above superstar," says TSN analyst Craig Button, a former NHL G.M. and an esteemed draft guru. "He's a franchise-defining player, the first one since Crosby. If I could pick him right now in this year's draft, I'd choose him Number 1."
Back in March 2012, for only the third time in history, the Ontario Hockey League granted McDavid, then 15, exceptional player status, waving the league's minimum age requirement and allowing the moribund Erie Otters (who had won just 10 of their 68 games in 2011--12) to select him first overall. In Sochi, Russia, at the recent U18 world championship, McDavid was chosen as the tournament MVP after he led Canada to the gold medal. "I haven't seen someone like Connor in a long, long time," raves Orr. "The way he sees the ice, lays passes, does so many things well."
Orr, it needs to be said, owns the agency that represents McDavid. His praise should be taken as the opinion of one with a vested interest in building the boy up. But what he's saying isn't all that far from what everybody else is saying. Including Crosby. "He reminded me of myself," the Penguins star said last October of seeing McDavid play.
When it comes to praise for McDavid, you have to consider the source.
WHEN BRIAN MCDAVID took his son for his first glide on the ice, three-year-old Connor waved off his dad's hand and began skating with big strides, just as he had when he was first put on roller skates in the house. I've got this, thanks. A year later Brian and his wife, Kelly, fudged Connor's age by a year to allow him to play hockey with a group of five-year-olds. At Cameron's games a few years later, Connor would listen to the coach's pregame speech, and then, instead of going off into the corner to play with other kids, he would sit in the stands with Kelly, dissecting the game's details for her whenever she missed a play.
Brian, who coached several of Connor's teams from 2001 to '09, recalls watching his younger son wait for pucks to squirt free from scrums so he could dash off on breakaways. "Kids that age have a pack mentality, always surrounding the puck," says Brian. "[But] even then, he was going to where he knew the puck would be instead of where it was."
In the boy's bedroom, where a plastic Maple Leafs scoreboard is affixed to an overhead light fixture and Crosby is represented by posters and bobbleheads, Connor would align action figures on the floor in a makeshift oval, creating plays and moving men around. In his driveway he made obstacle courses out of old paint cans and broken sticks and would slalom through them before darting into the garage to fling shots at a net, sprinting over to a stopwatch he'd left by the goal to check his efficiency.