It took Wayne Gretzky five seasons before he won his first of his four Stanley Cups. It took Mario Lemieux seven years to hoist the first of his two Stanley Cups. It took Sidney Crosby four years to bring the cup back to Pittsburgh. As we enter year three of the McDavid era, talk of a Stanley Cup and expectations have risen, but patience is still key.
“Experience becomes a factor,” said Gretzky, who spoke to reporters in Scarborough at Jumpstarts $50 million dollar donation announcement. “I think the experience they got in playing in pressure games is going to go a long way to making this a better team.”
Getting those two playoff rounds under their belt was a huge step-forward for McDavid and the Oilers. And while number 97 notched his first 100-point campaign (and captured the Art Ross Trophy), along with the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsey Award, his development and confidence as a leader should be noted in the same class.
The ‘C’ that McDavid wears on his chest is a testament to the night and day transition we’ve seen from the once 16-year-old camera-shy Junior phenom to a leader at the NHL level, on-and-off the ice, at 20-years-old, the age of overage players in the CHL.
“I think one of the things that make Connor (McDavid) such a wonderful player is his unselfishness,” said Gretzky.
Leadership from Connor McDavid at the end of Game 5. Draisaitl looking defeated. Tells him "let's go". Knows series isn't over. pic.twitter.com/0YKzfaCIkU
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 6, 2017
“And he’s still a young player. And I think there are times last year that because of his youth, his respect for his teammates and the game, that he passed more than he probably should have or could have,” continued Gretzky.
But the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner may need to get a wee bit more selfish, and develop a score-first mentality, says Gretzky.
“I expect and anticipate Connor will shoot the puck a little bit more this year. As I say to him all the time, you have the best shot on the team, shoot the puck when you get that chance.”
“That’s what makes him special though, is that he’s unselfish.”
Gretzky himself was quite the selfless player, as his 1963 career assists act as an easy reminder. Mind you, Gretzky had such a stellar surrounding cast (that even went on to win a cup without him in ’90), he had a plethora of elite weapons to dish the puck to.
And this is no disrespect to Leon Draisaitl, a potential perennial all-star in his own right, but the Oilers’ scoring depth has taken a hit in the past two offseasons. Edmonton lost plenty of goal scoring as Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have been shipped out, and with little spending money to shop with, McDavid will be called upon to pick up even more of that slack. If anyone is suited to give tips to McDavid, it’s Gretzky, and it seems like he has, as his role and involvement with the Oilers has increased.
Now, McDavid may have been the league’s best player last regular season, but the real medals go to those that can call themselves champions and because of that, McDavid’s yet to climb to number one on Gretzky’s list of current NHL players.
“(It’s) Sidney. I say that privately, publicly, and listen, when you win three Stanley Cups, two (Olympic) gold medals, MVPs, scoring titles, and do what he’s done — until somebody knocks him off of that — he’s the guy. And there’s no question that Connor is the next guy, and he’s got to win that Stanley Cup and he’s got to get those prizes and until that happens, Sidney deserves the respect and honour that he gets.”
Hopefully, for Oilersnation, McDavid will start racking up those Cups and prizes in the near-future. But Stanley Cup’s aren’t won overnight, it’s a process. And throughout that process, having Gretzky more involved with not just Connor, but the Oilers will only increase the team’s chances of rejuvenating the City of Champions.