EDMONTON — Connor McDavid played his first game as an Edmonton Oiler before the home crowd Wednesday, and didn’t disappoint.
The 18-year-old centre set up two goals on two power plays in the first period and added another assist in the third to lead the Oilers rookie squad to a 6-3 win over the University of Alberta Golden Bears in the teams’ annual scrimmage game.
More than 14,000 came to watch at Rexall Place. Fan interest in McDavid was so high, the game was moved from its usual venue, the 2,700 seat rink on the university campus.
Many fans wore replicas of McDavid’s No. 97 jersey, and McDavid said he noticed.
“It’s pretty special to play in here for the first time and it is cool to see a couple of 97s out there,” he said.
The highlight goal came with eight minutes left in the first period.
McDavid, skating around the back of the net, passed the puck back between the legs of a chasing defender to Alexis Loiseau in front. Loiseau spun and fired the puck past Golden Bear goalie Luke Siemens to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead.
McDavid said it was quick math.
“One guy was on (Draisaitl) who cycled it, and another guy came to me. Just by those numbers alone there should be a guy open, so I just tried to throw it out there, and obviously Loiseau made a pretty spectacular play,” he said.
Three minutes earlier, McDavid ignited a tic-tac-toe play, passing to winger Braden Christoffer stationed at the side of the Bears’ net. Christoffer redirected the puck to Leon Draisaitl as Draisaitl crashed the net and fired the puck in.
McDavid almost scored earlier in the first period, breaking in alone on Siemens, shifting the puck from his forehand to his backhand as he swooped past the net, failing by just an inch to tuck the puck past Siemens’ left skate
When the Bears moved to within a goal 4-3 late in the third period, McDavid showed off his speed, turning on a dime at centre and accelerating to create a two-on-one, passing to Cole Sanford in front for a goal to seal the win.
McDavid logged 17:58 of ice time and played a regular shift with wingers Anton Slepyshev and Sanford.
Draisaitl, 19, continued his strong rookie camp with a goal and two assists.
Head coach Todd McLellan has said he will look at moving Draisaitl to wing in training camp as the centre position, once a weakness, now has McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The Oilers have now won 12 of the 25 annual games against the Bears, who are back-to-back Canadian university champions.
The game marked the end of the Oilers rookie camp.
Oilers main camp begins Friday and McDavid is again expected to be the focus of fan interest.
The first three days are being held in Leduc, south of Edmonton. Fan turnout for McDavid was so high, the Oilers held a lottery for tickets for fans to get in.
McDavid, with his skill set of speed and soft hands is being called hockey’s next superstar.
Since being drafted by the Oilers this spring he has reignited fan interest in a team that has missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press