'It was never enough': Connor McDavid's parents recall driven childhood
Published Friday, June 26, 2015 11:22AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 26, 2015 7:46PM EDT
Connor McDavid has a lot of nicknames, including "Connor McHockey," "Connor McSaviour," "The Next One" and "The Next Sidney Crosby." But the people who simply call him "son" say he's ready to handle those expectations, even after being selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in Friday's NHL draft.
Kelly and Brian McDavid say their boy Connor is a quiet, focused and determined 18-year-old who's been preparing for the NHL most of his life. The Newmarket, Ont. native started skating on rollerblades in the family home's basement at the age of two, and by the time he was nine, he was already preparing his parents for the day he would leave home to pursue his hockey dream.
He took another step on the path toward that dream Friday night, when the Oilers made him their first overall selection at the NHL draft in Florida.
Brian and Kelly McDavid say they're very proud of their son.
"It's an honour to be selected (in the draft)," Brian told CTV's Canada AM, in an exclusive interview at the family's home in Newmarket, Ont.
The McDavids say they were surprised when Edmonton won the right to draft Connor, after the Oilers entered the league's draft lottery with the third-best odds last April.
McDavid's parents say they were preparing for Connor to go to Buffalo, Arizona or Toronto. "Edmonton never came into the equation because we thought Edmonton had won the pick a few times already," Kelly McDavid said. "So we thought, 'What are the odds?'"
The odds gave Edmonton an 11.5 per cent chance to win the pick, but Edmonton had already won three of the previous five draft lotteries, so the McDavids thought it a statistical long shot that they would win this one, too.
But it happened, and the Oilers are already drawing up huge plans for their franchise, with McDavid as the centerpiece.
The Oilers franchise was understandably ecstatic to win the draft lottery, but you didn't have to be a mind-reader to see that McDavid wasn't so thrilled. He was on hand at the television studio where the lottery was held, and when the Oilers won the pick, cameras showed McDavid wearing a forlorn expression. He was stony-faced and glassy-eyed as he answered media questions immediately after the Oilers win, though he said all the right things in those interviews.
McDavid's father, Brian, pointed out that players don't get to choose where they're drafted, so his son will just have to get used to Edmonton. "You go where they tell you you're going, and you deal with the circumstances and you make the best of it," he said.
The Oilers of today are a far cry from what they were in their heyday, when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and company were winning Stanley Cups in the mid- to late-1980s. These Oilers haven't made the playoffs in nine seasons, and they're now on their ninth coach in as many years. Their only luck has come in the draft lottery, where they've won the first overall pick in four of the last six drafts.
Their last three first overall picks were used on Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, a trio of forwards with above-average talent who have not been able to turn around their team's fortunes.
But most scouts say McDavid is in another class altogether, with the potential to almost single-handedly turn around any franchise, much as Sidney Crosby did when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Friday won't be McDavid's first time going first overall in a draft. He was chosen first overall by the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League draft at the age of 15, after he was granted exceptional status by the league. The OHL draft is typically only for 16-year-olds, but the league occasionally grants a highly-talented 15-year-old the opportunity to enter the draft.
McDavid was the third OHL player to be granted exceptional status, following in the footsteps of now-New York Islanders captain John Tavares, and Florida Panthers rookie-of-the-year Aaron Ekblad. Both those players were selected first overall in their respective NHL drafts.
Kelly McDavid said it was "really tough" having her son enter the OHL at the age of 15, because it meant he had to leave home to play for the Erie Otters in the United States. The only saving grace, she said, was that Connor had been preparing to leave home from the age of nine.
"It was sort of always there, that that's his dream," she said. "Then when it actually came, it was really tough."
Brian McDavid says he and his wife never pressured Connor to play hockey. In fact, the McDavids worried at one point that hockey was becoming "too much," he said.
"Hockey became a 12-month-a-year event," he said.
The McDavids ultimately decided to let their son decide when "enough was enough, and it was never enough," he added.
Connor McDavid’s talent and drive helped him win a slew of awards during his junior career. He won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Hockey Championships last winter, before taking home the Canadian Hockey League's player of the year award this spring.
But if you believe the hype, those achievements are just the beginning of what could be a legendary career.
Despite the pressure, Brian and Kelly say their son can handle it, and they'll always be there to cheer him on.
"I tell Connor that all the time," his mother said: "'I play every shift with you.'"