McDavid skates with Canadian teammates at first practice
Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid during first period action against the London Knights at Budweiser Gardens on October 19, 2012. (DEREK RUTTAN/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY)
Connor McDavid sees gold when he peers ahead to the first week of January.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it all,” McDavid said on Thursday as Canada opened its world junior selection camp at the MasterCard Centre. “Canada has a very talented group of players throughout the country and I guess we are kind of the lucky 30 who get to participate in this camp.
“I know everyone is going to be looking to show their stuff. Whatever team is put on the ice on Boxing Day (when Canada plays its opener against Slovakia), I know it is going to be a good one.”
The good news for Canada is that McDavid will eventually have a complete opportunity to demonstrate on the international stage, again, why he is likely to be the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft in June.
McDavid was on the ice for Canada’s first practice but is waiting to be cleared for contact drills (not that his Canada teammates are going to start drilling him into the boards). The cast on the Erie Otters superstar’s right hand came off on Tuesday after he broke a bone in a fight during a game on Nov. 11.
Shooting is not a problem. Nor is whether McDavid is in game shape.
“I have been skating for three weeks now and it has just been bag skating,” McDavid said. “I have been saying my legs felt better than they did before I got hurt.”
The goal is to play in at least one of Canada’s three exhibition games, which get underway on Dec. 19 at the Air Canada Centre when Russia is the opponent. Canada coach Benoit Groulx has no interest in taking a chance with his best player, especially as Canada will attempt to win gold for the first time since 2009, so the hard and fast rule with McDavid will be patience.
“The most important thing is to have him for competition,” Groulx said. “There is no rush. We will follow what the doctor says and how he reacts to shooting and passing the puck. We’re happy to have him here and we will see how it plays out.
“We want to be patient with him in order to have him at 100%. We don’t want to put Connor on the ice at 75%.”
For a brief time in the moments after the injury happened in a scrap with Bryson Cianfrone of the Mississauga Steelheads, McDavid acknowledged he was afraid he would not be a part of Canada’s team for this winter’s event in Montreal and Toronto.
“Very concerned,” McDavid said. “Before you find out what the details are, you just worry about everything. Everything kind of flashes before your eyes.”
McDavid was flying before he got hurt, scoring 16 goals and assisting on 35 others in just 18 games for the Otters. It was evident during Canada’s August camp in Montreal that he was physically stronger, and that helped him dominate the first six weeks of the Ontario Hockey League season with more than just his ridiculously good skill set.
There’s no question McDavid will be a leader for Canada, and it won’t only be when the puck is on his stick.
As it is with the other six players in this camp who were part of the Canadian side that finished fourth last year, there is a burning to avenge the disappointing finish.
That group, which includes goaltender Zach Fucale, defencemen Josh Morrissey and Chris Bigras and forwards Sam Reinhart, Nic Petan and Frederik Gauthier, will impart the lessons learned on their teammates through camp and into the tournament.
If all falls into place -- and Canada would need some luck in an event that has more parity every passing year -- the gold-medal drought will end on Jan. 5.
“Just the intensity and the roller coaster that is the world junior,” McDavid said. “There are many ups and downs that come along with it. Not getting too high and not getting too low — that is probably the key. Last year did not go necessarily the way we wanted it to, but you learn from it and I think everyone is pretty excited for this one.”
REINHART KEY TO CANUCKS
As much as there will be attention on Canada’s Connor McDavid and the United States’ Jack Eichel at the 2015 world junior, it would be unwise to play down the impact Sam Reinhart can have for Canada.
Since he was returned to the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League by the Buffalo Sabres, Reinhart has 27 points in 15 games. He’s one of the most cerebral players in his age group.
“Sam was good last year with us and we know how smart he is on the ice,” Canada coach Benoit Groulx said. “He is calm, plays with poise and passion also. I really feel Sam is someone who can elevate his game, adapt his game, he understands that and I think he can be an important part of our team.”
Reinhart, the second pick overall by the Sabres last June, has his mind in the right place on the eve of the tournament.
“There is a sour feeling, for sure (in finishing fourth last year),” Reinhart said. “I’m not one to ever feel too much pressure. I’m excited.
“There is no question I wanted to be (with the Sabres), but I think I have handled coming back to junior well. This day, especially getting here for the start of this camp, has been on my mind. I would not want to be anywhere else right now.”