BY TIM REYNOLDS
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — For Connor McDavid, this is only the beginning.
And he’s eager to see what comes next.
There’s no mystery, no drama, no guessing about what will happen when the Edmonton Oilers make the first pick in Friday night’s NHL draft. It’s going to be McDavid’s moment, as hockey’s latest heir apparent — a 6-foot-1 center who’s already been compared to the game’s royalty — takes his first steps on the road to what many expect will be a rapid rise to professional stardom.
“You only go through the draft process once and it’s something you want to savor,” McDavid said. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long, long time. (You’re) going to be so happy when you’re drafted, but that’s when the hard work starts.”
He’s going to a place that saw the Stanley Cup get hoisted five times in seven seasons from 1984 through 1990, with no titles since and not even as much as a playoff appearance since 2006. And the Oilers haven’t exactly cashed in on having the top pick; McDavid will be their fourth No. 1 overall selection in the last six years.
But he’s supposed to be different. He gets compared to Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby — even LeBron James, the thinking that he’s a young guy who can come in and be a leader right away and not buckle under the burden of gargantuan expectations.
“Time will tell, but at this age, yes, probably,” Florida general manager Dale Tallon said when asked if McDavid is the best prospect since Crosby.
Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel from Boston University will almost surely be the No. 2 pick, going to the Buffalo Sabres. Many in Buffalo were likely disappointed when the Sabres didn’t win the draft lottery and the chance to grab McDavid.
Eichel said he’s looking forward to reminding them that they’re getting a pretty good player. It raised some eyebrows when word leaked that he told the Sabres he’d be better than McDavid, but there’s obviously no bad blood between the two — they were inseparable while appearing with other top prospects at a Miami Marlins game earlier this week.
“I’m pretty confident in my own abilities,” Eichel said. “I know everyone’s making a big deal that I said a comment like that. I don’t think it was meant at all about … that wasn’t me comparing myself to Connor or anything like that. It was more me thinking that I’m the best player in the draft. It’s more just confidence in my own self.”
Here’s some of what to watch in the draft:
USA, USA: When Eichel goes No. 2 overall and if Noah Hanifin — as some expect — goes No. 3, it’ll be the quickest that two American players are off the draft board since 2007. That was the year Chicago took Patrick Kane at No. 1 and Philadelphia chose James van Riemsdyk at No. 2 — the first instance of two American players going 1-2 and starting a haul where 10 U.S. players were picked up in the first round. Last year, no American player was taken until the No. 15 spot in the first round.
BEWARE THE RED WINGS: Odds are, even the most ardent hockey fan has not heard of Andrei Troschinsky or Layne Ulmer. There’s good reason for that. Troschinsky was taken immediately before Pavel Datsyuk went to Detroit with the No. 171 overall selection in 1998, and Ulmer was the guy taken one pick ahead of the Red Wings grabbing Henrik Zetterberg at No. 210 in 1999. Red Wings GM Ken Holland is a master at finding value deep in the draft. This past season, Detroit’s eight leading scorers were all Red Wing draftees, developed within the organization — and none was even a top-20 pick.
GOOD LUCK, CONNOR: Edmonton has the No. 1 pick for the fourth time in the last six years, after getting Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012. No one in that trio has made the splash that McDavid is expected to deliver this season, as evidenced by their numbers this past season alone. Combined, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov scored 52 goals in 2014-15 — which is exactly one goal less than Washington star sniper Alex Ovechkin scored by himself.
BUSY EARLY: By Saturday morning, six teams should feel like they’re well on their way to becoming better quickly. Barring trades — and rest assured, trades will happen — six teams are in possession of multiple first-round picks to be used on Friday night. Edmonton, Buffalo, Arizona, Philadelphia, Toronto and Winnipeg all hold two first-rounders. Of that group, only Winnipeg made the playoffs this past season; the Jets were swept by Anaheim in the first round.
TAKE YOUR TIME: Those who are following the draft maneuvers of the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers or New York Islanders might be really bored. Unless those teams swing some deals to pick up selections — a distinct possibility, especially in the case of salary-cap-strapped Chicago — draft time might seem like nap time for those clubs. The Islanders aren’t even scheduled to start picking until 71 players are off the board. The Rangers have one of the draft’s first 88 picks, the Blackhawks one of the first 90 and the Penguins are slated to make just one of the first 136 selections.
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