Will Connor McDavid be Canada's world junior saviour?
Otters forward Connor McDavid will lead Canada at the World Junior Championship in December. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
If you thought this ridiculously-skilled McDavid kid had a penchant for the spotlight by turning an October Erie-Niagara game in Buffalo into prime-time love-in known as Connor-palooza, just imagine the circus that awaits in two months when he takes his act to the bright lights of Toronto and Montreal for the World Junior Championship.
McDavid's mere presence at First Niagara Centre brought out almost 12,000 people -- some already wearing custom-made "McDavid 97" Sabres jerseys -- to witness his dazzling four-point performance in an 8-4 Otters victory on Wednesday.
"It's a little different," McDavid told reporters, referring to the snowballing attention on him. "But I guess I've had a little bit experience in the last two years kind of growing up, (learning how) to act."
In terms of limelight, he hasn't seen anything yet.
Whether it's fair or not, the reality of the situation is that McDavid already is being looked upon by a nation of hockey fans as the saviour who can finally end Canada's five-year run without winning gold at the world junior. Add in the fact that the tournament is being played in the puck-crazed cities of Toronto and Montreal -- two markets that arguably serve as the biggest stages in the sport -- and it will be pretty much impossible to keep the pre-tourney hype from simply being a festival known as McDavid-mania.
Still, Tom Renney knows Hockey Canada has to try. At least behind closed doors.
Trying to follow in the impressive footsteps of the outgoing Bob Nicholson, Renney knows the upcoming World Juniors in two months will be the most highly publicized event he'll be a part of since being named president of Hockey Canada over the summer. And if Canada is to have success, heaping the nation's hopes on the shoulders of one individual teenager, as skilled as he might be, is not the way to do it.
The 1978 World Juniors proved that.
Some 37 years ago, the tournament was also held in Canada, mainly in Quebec City and Montreal. Moreover, Canadians figured gold was in the bag thanks to Wayne Gretzky, who was still in the infant stages of a legendary career.
Gretzky did his part, leading the tournament in scoring with 17 points, But he could not carry the team on his own, as evidenced by the fact that Canada was forced to settle for a bronze medal.
Gretzky needed help from his supporting cast. And so, too, Renney feels, will McDavid.
"He's well spoken, well thought out and every bit the teammate," Renney told Sun Media. "And obviously he's a high-end talent. But I think in the end it's going to have to be about our team and not just one guy in the lineup.
"At this stage of his career, he certainly looks to be one of the best in the world at his age. Is that an advantage for us? For sure. But at the end of the day, if we can't capitalize on what we need to do as a team, it's not going to matter if Connor is on the ice or not.
"The big thing here for these guys to understand is that they're all in this together. The media obviously is going to be drawn to him but I think internally it has to be a team game, of which Connor will be a big part of as anyone else."
In the meantime, Team Canada officials are closely monitoring a number of eligible players who are at the NHL level right now. Teams cannot send a player back to junior after he has played his 10th NHL game.
One such player in that position is the Rangers' Anthony Duclair. After racking up three points in his first four outings, he's been a healthy scratch the past two games, leading to speculation that he'll be sent back to the Quebec Remparts -- and an imminent date to wear the maple leaf on his chest at the world junior.
"I've got a pretty good grasp of our time frame with him," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told New York reporters. "He's going to practice and we'll see (about) the next game (Saturday in Montreal)."
Forwards Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton) of Germany, and Canadians Sam Reinhart (Buffalo) and Curtis Lazar (Ottawa) are in the same position as Duclair. Those close to the Senators agree Lazar is making a strong case to stick at the NHL level.
Either way, with the clock ticking down until decisions must be made whether to return these kids to junior, Renney is sure of one thing: Connor McDavid will be surrounded by some quality talent come World Junior time. And it will take efforts of The Whole - not just The One -- for Canada to finally capture gold again.
Even if that "One" is budding superstar Connor McDavid.
NHL prospect rankings
The hype surrounding the New Year's Eve game in Montreal between Connor McDavid's Canadians and Jack Eichel's Americans already is causing puckheads in this country to drool about the upcoming World Junior tourney.
McDavid and Eichel, after all, are the two top-ranked players for the 2015 draft and already are being touted as stars by NHL scouts.
But there are some other quality draft-eligible prospects coming up as well. As such, here are the just-released October rankings for the top-10 players courtesy of North American Central Scouting, including comments from NACS chief scout Mark Seidel.
1. F Connor McDavid (Erie, OHL)
Once in a generation Player...Best Prospect Since Crosby...Marketing dream...Will toy with the OHL this year
2. F Jack Eichel (Boston U., NCAA)
Would be the #1 pick in almost any other year...Good size and strength...Uncommon vision for a kid like him...Will be better with better teammates
3. D Noah Hanifin (Boston College, NCAA)
Phenomenal defensive prospect...Tremendous feet...Loves to jump into the rush...Great vision
4. F Lawson Crouse (Kingston, OHL)
Big man-child that has HUGE upside...Goes hard to the net...Smart to be a good PK guy...Can carry defenders
5. D Oliver Kylington (Farjestads, Swedish Elite League)
Played up with Farjestad as a 16 year old...Only slightly behind Hanifin...Makes great offensive decisions...Will QB a PP in the NHL.
6. F Dylan Strome (Erie, OHL)
Big horse down the middle...Will really blossom this year...Will be interesting to see if his offensive game expands the way I expect it to.
7. F Pavel Zacha (Sarnia, OHL)
Tremendous skater for a big kid...Excellent ice awareness...Will have some high-end talent in Sarnia to work off of...Aware defensively
8. D Jeremy Roy (Sherbrooke, QMJHL)
Uses great feet to get himself out of trouble...Deceptively strong...Uses strength well...Can thread passes...Best player on a BAD team last year
9. D Zach Werenski (Michigan, NCAA)
Will be interesting to see if he plays a lot at Michigan...Don't be surprised to see him jump to London...Plays a pro style game .., Bit of a wildcard if he stays at Michigan
10. F Travis Konecny (Ottawa, OHL)
Has a chance to be a superstar...Obviously size is a concern...Plays SOOOO hard...Afraid his body might break down...Slick offensively...Breakaway speed.