SUNRISE (AP) — Connor McDavid’s favorite hockey player is Sidney Crosby. His favorite non-skating athlete is LeBron James.
He’s now in their club, forever to be known as a No. 1 pick.
McDavid’s journey toward widely expected NHL superstardom officially began Friday night when the Edmonton Oilers grabbed him with the top overall selection in the draft. No player has entered the league with such hype since Crosby a decade ago, and his level of celebrity within the game already may rival what James was dealing with when he joined the NBA in 2003.
“It was even better than I expected,” McDavid said. “It’s so exciting to hear your name called. It was unbelievable.”
Crosby and James proved the buzz surrounding them was worthwhile, both having won the biggest team and individual honors in their sport. And McDavid now gets his chance to fulfill the highest of expectations. The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006, a far cry from when Wayne Gretzky dominated the NHL and Edmonton won five titles in a seven-year span from 1984 through 1990.
No pressure, Connor.
“The Edmonton Oilers have such a historic history,” McDavid said.
And now he’s their future.
“We’re lucky to have him,” Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said.
Buffalo took Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel of Boston University with the No. 2 pick, another no-surprise move. Eichel had 26 goals and 45 assists in 40 games this past season, winning college hockey’s top individual award.
“I think Buffalo is heading in the right direction, as a team and as a city,” Eichel said. “There’s a lot of positives and I want to be a piece of the puzzle. Buffalo wants success and they want success soon and it’s going to happen.”
Fans from all around the league — at least their jersey choices suggested so — were in South Florida for the festivities. Many endured long lines to pose with the Stanley Cup (some with Phil Pritchard, the keeper of the Cup). A group of Edmonton men wore matching McDavid No. 97 jerseys. A few from Buffalo wore “I like Eich” T-shirts, a nod to the 34th U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
The intrigue essentially started at No. 3, when Arizona grabbed center Dylan Strome — McDavid’s teammate with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, and someone who finished this past season with nine more points than McDavid, albeit in 21 more games. Toronto took Mitch Marner at No. 4, making it four straight centers to lead off.
Defenseman Noah Hanifin went No. 5 to Carolina, so with Eichel that meant two U.S. players were top-five picks for the first time since 2007. Center Pavel Zacha went sixth to New Jersey, defenseman Ivan Provorov seventh to Philadelphia and Columbus grabbed defenseman Jack Werenski with the eighth pick.
For Werenski, who doesn’t even turn 18 until next month, it’s an odd pairing: He’s a Michigan Wolverine who’s going to the home of Ohio State.
A pair of right wings rounded out the top 10, Timo Meier to San Jose and Mikko Rantanen to Colorado. That meant left wing Lawson Crouse, who some thought would be a top-five pick, fell to Florida at No. 11 — and got a huge ovation from the Panthers’ crowd.
“It all turned out very well for me,” Crouse said.
Dallas went with another right wing, taking Russian prospect Denis Gurianov at No. 12. That put Boston on the clock with back-to-back-to-back picks, a first for the modern first-round NHL draft era.
Boston had the No. 14 pick in the first round to start the day — then got the No. 13 and No. 15 selections in a pair of trades on Friday. The Bruins traded left wing Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for defenseman Colin Miller, goalie Martin Jones and the 13th pick, then got No. 15, No. 45 and No. 52 from Calgary in exchange for defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
The Bruins went with defenseman Jakub Zboril, left wing Jake DeBrusk and right wing Zachary Senyshyn.
“All three of them can really skate,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said.
But regardless of what the Bruins or anyone else did, the lights shined brightest on McDavid.
Last year’s No. 1 pick, Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad, was at Friday’s draft — held on the very floor where the Panthers play their home games. A year ago on draft night, Ekblad was a nervous wreck. This time around, fresh off returning from Las Vegas where he was presented the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie this past season, Ekblad coolly munched on chicken fingers in an arena suite.
He knows McDavid well, and believes the Gretzky, Crosby, whoever comparisons won’t affect the new No. 1 pick.
“I’m lucky. I’m not nearly as good as him. I don’t draw those comparisons,” Ekblad said. “It’s going to be tough to live up to but Connor has a set of expectations for himself and I’m thinking he’s probably the only one who’s going to worry about that. He’s not worried about anyone else’s expectations.”
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