October 05, 2016 - 1:36 PM
Oilers coach Todd McLellan knew Connor McDavid was ready to become the youngest captain in NHL history eight months ago.
After a long layoff due to a broken collarbone, McDavid returned to Edmonton's lineup and took charge. McLellan saw a supremely confident player on the ice, a person who was comfortable around teammates and at ease with the coaching staff.
"At that point it was real evident he was ready to lead this group," McLellan told reporters in Edmonton on Wednesday.
At 19 years and 266 days, McDavid just edges out Gabriel Landeskog and Sidney Crosby as the youngest captain the league has ever seen, a not unexpected move for the player picked first overall at the 2015 draft. Like Landeskog, McDavid takes over after only one season in the NHL and a 45-game season at that.
He was a truly dominant player in limited duty though, fourth in rookie scoring despite missing 37 games with the collarbone injury.
McLellan said the phenom is ready to handle the pressures of the captaincy, especially the media responsibilities typical of a leader in a Canadian market. Teammates described the Newmarket, Ont. native as someone who would lead less with his voice than with his play on the ice and in the manner he carried himself.
"I'm definitely not the most vocal guy in the room," McDavid said. "I think I'm a guy who can relate to everyone, and I try to lead that way. I'm not the big 'rah rah' kind of guy."
McLellan said reception in the dressing room was positive.
"I don't think many of them were surprised which I think is a good sign for us," he said. "They certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for him right now, the way he plays, the way he prepares, the way he carries himself for a 19-year-old."
Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were named as alternates.
McDavid, who previously served as captain of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters as well as Team North America at the recently-completed World Cup of Hockey, follows in some big footsteps as Edmonton's captain, including those of Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
McLellan said he sees similarities between McDavid and Crosby, who took over the Penguins captaincy following his second NHL season, leading Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup final in the year that followed.
"He's an ambassador of the game," McLellan said of McDavid. "He understands his role."
The Oilers went without a captain last season, Andrew Ference last holding the role in the 2014-16 campaign. McDavid didn't deny his desire for the job earlier this summer.
"It would mean so much," he said at the Biosteel Camp in August. "It would definitely be an accomplishment that I would be the most proud of."
The Oilers hope a healthy McDavid and revamped roster will put an end to their decade-long post-season drought. Edmonton hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2006 and were last in the Western Conference last season despite the notable additions of McDavid, McLellan, and Cam Talbot, a No. 1 goaltender who offered rare stability in the crease.
The Oilers made more changes in the off-season, acquiring help on defence in 23-year-old Adam Larsson as well as Lucic, a six-foot-three, 233-pound bruiser likely to play on McDavid's wing. They also selected Finnish sensation Jesse Puljajarvi with the fourth overall pick at the June draft.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016