CHICAGO — Connor McDavid stood in the crowded Chicago Blackhawks locker-room and chatted with Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning down the hall.
An appearance at the Stanley Cup final with other top prospects was just the latest stop on McDavid’s rock-star tour before the Edmonton Oilers, as expected, draft him first overall later this month. Along the way, McDavid has been to the Memorial Cup and the scouting combine and gotten to know fellow top prospect Jack Eichel.
“It’s been a whirlwind and it’s been a dream come true,” McDavid said Monday morning at United Center. “It’s been crazy. It’s been a very busy couple of weeks. But it’s exciting. It’s where you want to be.”
McDavid would have rather been on the ice at the Memorial Cup but was instead in Quebec City for the CHL awards. At the combine he got to meet with Oilers brass and finally get acquainted with Eichel.
They had met on the ice at two world junior championships but never as regular, teenage kids. That happened in Buffalo outside the Sabres’ HarborCenter facilities.
“The two of us were just walking down the street, just bumped into each other shook hands and that was it,” Eichel said. “I don’t think we wanted to make a big deal of it as everyone else did.”
McDavid and Eichel have been linked for more than a year already as the prospective top two picks. Even though they’ll likely be far away from each other playing for Edmonton and Buffalo, going 1-2 in the draft will make the subject of comparisons for potentially the next two decades.
They had dinner with fellow prospects Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome, Mitchell Marner and Lawson Crouse on Sunday night in Chicago and rode the bus together from downtown out to United Center.
“It’s nice to get to know all of them,” Eichel said. “It’s nice for us to spend time together, see the game, do all this. It’s part of the experience.”
Part of McDavid’s experience is seeing his first Cup final game in person. Once this is over, he’ll go back to training with the hopes that he’s ready to step in and make an impact with the Oilers as a rookie.
“I’ve got a big summer ahead of me,” McDavid said.
McDavid trains alongside Stamkos and others at Gary Roberts High Performance Centre in Toronto. Roberts said recently that it helps McDavid and other young players to observe Stamkos in that element.
“The professionalism that Steven Stamkos brings to track and brings to the rink every day, for a guy like Connor to see the way that Steven Stamkos conducts himself as a professional is really the hidden secret to my program,” Roberts said.
McDavid wants to get stronger this summer but wouldn’t even talk about joining the Oilers. He said he hopes to make a team out of training camp if he’s “lucky” and as usual acted like it wasn’t a foregone conclusion he’ll be putting on the orange and blue June 26.
On Monday, McDavid met legendary Oilers captain Mark Messier for the first time. Messier was struck by the 18-year-old’s knowledge of hockey history.
“My first impression was just incredible,” Messier said. “What a fine young gentleman, very down to earth. Very honoured, genuinely so, honoured to be in the position that he is.”
McDavid doesn’t believe his next position, as a young, NHL centre, will be an easy step to perfect.
“I think there’ll be some growing pains, for sure,” McDavid said. “I don’t expect to step right in and be that guy. It’s a much different league. It’s going to be a lot harder, so I’m just looking to do what I can in terms of getting better and working hard this summer.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press