Connor McDavid has been the overwhelming focus for fans and media at the Young Stars rookie tournament, and that suits his teammates with the Edmonton Oilers just fine.
The No. 1 overall pick at June’s NHL draft — dubbed hockey’s “next one” long ago — is the talk of this city on the southern shore of Okanagan Lake, leaving the Oilers’ other prospects to go about their business in relative obscurity.
“That’s the way it is, and I’ve said it before, rightfully so,” said forward Leon Draisaitl. “He’s just that good.”
Draisaitl is among the crop of high-end talent the Oilers have accumulated during their years of futility at or near the bottom of the NHL standings. The 19-year-old German was the third overall pick in 2014 and spent 37 games with Edmonton last season, picking up two goals and seven assists, before being returned to junior.
A six-foot-one 212-pound centre who could be moved to the wing when the Oilers open training camp next week, Draisaitl is happy to take a backseat to McDavid mania.
“He’s the best player to come along in a long, long time, so for him to come here and get seen by a lot of people, that’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s nice for him to get all the attention and for him to be the first guy (media) go to.
“For us, it’s a little more relaxed.”
Gerry Fleming, the head coach of Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, is running the Oilers’ bench at the event in Penticton that also includes rookies from the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets. He said his organization has a lot more going for it than just McDavid.
“There’s a lot of skill,” said Fleming. “Connor being the player that he is and the person that he is, he gets a lot of attention and it does distract attention from other guys, but we’ve got a lot of good players.”
One of those good players is Darnell Nurse, a six-foot-three 216-pound defenceman who played in junior, the AHL and two games with the Oilers last season.
The Hamilton native has shown his offensive side at this tournament as well as his willingness to get involved physically after the Canucks took a run at McDavid in Edmonton’s first game.
“I definitely think I have an opportunity to go out there and earn myself a spot,” said Nurse. “That comes down to my play and how I carry myself through training camp. It’s something I’ve just got to go out there and work for.”
The seventh overall pick in 2013 added that playing three levels of hockey last season helped him better understand the game as he attempts to break in with the Oilers on a full-time basis.
“I’m a better player now. I’m looking forward to going out there and showing it,” said Nurse. “I can do all the talking I want, but it’s just time to go out there and perform.”
Meanwhile, McDavid sat out Edmonton’s second game of the rookie tournament on Saturday and won’t play in the Oilers’ finale on Monday either, but that hasn’t lessened the interest in the 18-year-old phenom.
“It’s well-deserved,” said Nurse. “It doesn’t really affect the person that he is. He’s always happy. He comes to the rink with a smile on his face.”
A smile Oilers’ fans share when thinking about a future that includes a lot more than just McDavid.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press