There's a video going around this morning of an unbelievable OHL goal, the Erie center completely undressing an overmatched defender and a hapless goalie. The video is blurry, the audio distant and muffled, as if this were some black-market footage we aren't supposed to see. That's fitting, because Connor McDavid, at age 17, is already more myth than hockey player.
Update: We've got a high-quality gif now.
This would be highlight reel stuff no matter who the player was. But it's Connor McDavid, and that's a name you're likely to be hearing for years and maybe decades to come, so it's past time to start paying attention.
McDavid is a 6-foot, 185-pound (and growing) center from Newmarket, Ontario. He is the odds-on favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. He'd likely go first in this summer's draft, if he were eligible. Hell, he'd have gone early last year. The hype machine is already in overdrive, with McDavid being called "the Next Great One" and "the LeBron James of Hockey." That second one is dumb, because the NHL already had a guy labeled a can't-miss superstar years before he arrived, and who didn't miss. And what does that guy think of McDavid?
"He reminds me of me," Sidney Crosby said.
McDavid's teammates describe him as an unselfish, passing center, an elite skater who eagerly backchecks and who seems to be playing the game in some sort of time dilation. Look at the stickhandling in the video above—as they once said about Wayne Gretzky, the game looks slower to him than it does to anyone else on the ice.
He was born for this. The legend is already well-established by now: At age three, the first time he ever strapped on ice skates, he released his father's hand and being skating around the rink; At four, his parents lied about his age so he could begin playing hockey; By age 12 he was dominating adult pickup games; At age 15, he was granted "exceptional player status" and declared eligible for the OHL draft a year earlier, only the third player to earn that distinction since it was created in 2005. The first? John Tavares. Again with the comparisons to other players, but they're all flattering.
In his first season with the Erie Otters, the then-high-school-sophomore put up a point a game and was named the OHL's rookie of the year. Now in his second, he's found another gear—through 51 games, McDavid has 22 goals and 64 assists. But the OHL is notoriously high-scoring, and the world didn't truly take notice until he was pitted against his international peers. At the U18 championships last April, McDavid—two years younger than just about everyone else—scored eight goals and six assists in seven games.
Those Worlds provided one of the best illustrations of McDavid's vision and creativity. At the 57-second mark of his lengthy tournament highlight reel, he finds himself behind the goal. He banks a pass off the net to himself, setting up a teammate out front for the easy score.
You can fall into a fathomless YouTube hole looking at McDavid's highlights and emerge credulous, ready to proselytize on behalf of the NHL's next superstar. But a lot can change over a year, and the hype cycle is rarely kind. Get built up too much, and the run-up to the draft will be spent tearing you down, picking apart your game for any real or perceived weaknesses. It happened with Tavares and it happened with Nathan MacKinnon, the last "next Sidney Crosby." Both those two are doing all right, and McDavid will be fine too, as long as he's not held up as someone's second coming and instead judged on his own merits. Because he's pretty damned meritable already.