Florida Panthers

Comparison to ‘Great One’ has Oilers fans excited by Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid attends the Top Prospects Media Opportunity at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort on June 25, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.
Connor McDavid attends the Top Prospects Media Opportunity at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort on June 25, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. Getty Images

Connor McDavid sat in the Panthers’ locker room at the team’s training facility in Coral Springs on Thursday afternoon, more than a dozen media members surrounding his temporary stall.

Reporters crowding around McDavid is a comon sight these days.

On Friday night, McDavid will be the first overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

The 18-year-old center will walk through the crowd at Sunrise’s BB&T Center to the stage where he will slip on an Edmonton Oilers jersey likely with his name and familiar No.97 on the back.

If McDavid thought the attention was focused on him before, just wait until he gets to Edmonton.

“I think our fans were a little at the end of their run with this team and then they got this golden ticket,” said Bob Stauffer, Edmonton’s radio color analyst.

“They know how good he is. This guy is going to be the best player in the NHL in three to five years. I don’t think we’ve seen his combination of speed and skill and his vision is off the charts. He’s going to make everyone else better.’’

This 2015 draft has long been referred to as the “McDavid draft,” and a number of teams decided to waste a season in trying to be bad enough to try to get a shot at McDavid.

Edmonton, which finished 28th in the league behind Buffalo and Arizona this past season, won the draft lottery for the fourth time in the past six years and jumped both the Sabres and Coyotes for the rights to McDavid.

Although McDavid has often been compared to Sidney Crosby, the savior of a once-downtrodden Pittsburgh squad, now that he’s moving to Edmonton he has been compared to someone else.

In Edmonton, no one gets compared to Wayne Gretzky, the “Great One” who helped bring four Stanley Cups to Edmonton, and the mention of his trade to Los Angeles in 1988 still brings up great angst.

Yet McDavid and Gretzky are now mentioned in the same breath.

“People are bouncing off the walls in Edmonton,” said Marty Klinkenberg, who has been assigned the task of following McDavid this year for Canada’s Globe and Mail.

“A lot of people say he’s the best player to come out since Crosby and maybe even since Gretzky. The prospects are exciting, people are excited.”

McDavid was one of six top prospects to work a special camp for South Florida youngsters at the Panthers’ IceDen.

Wearing his Erie Otters junior jersey on the ice perhaps for the final time, McDavid skated among the young hockey players, most of whom were wearing their Panthers gear.

Afterward he signed countless autographs and posed for dozens of pictures before heading in and camping out in Brian Campbell’s locker stall.

“I don’t know if those kids look up to me or not, but it’s always nice to put a smile on someone’s face,” McDavid said. “I remember when I was that age and was just in awe of those guys. Now, to be in that position myself, you want to give back and do everything you can to help out.

“It was fun.”

Although it’s a given Edmonton is taking McDavid first, he still said he doesn’t know what will happen Friday night.

Gretzky’s No.99 might be the most popular jersey at Oilers’ games at aging Rexall Place but that will soon change.

This offseason, the Oilers hired former Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan, brought in a new general manager in former Boston boss Peter Chiarelli.

In 2016, a new arena in downtown Edmonton will open for the Oilers.

Edmonton, which has missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, is understandably fired up about the future.

“It’s a great city, the people are very nice and welcoming,” McDavid said. “People are excited and rightfully so. Whomever they draft first is going to be a good player.

“If it is myself, I’ll do everything I can to try and help.”

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