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Crosby sees greatness in 15-year-old McDavid

| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Aaron Bell/OHL Images
Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

ERIE — Sidney Crosby doesn't ordinarily spend time watching highlights of other hockey players.

But even the face of the NHL has checked out footage of hockey's freshest face.

Like everyone else, Crosby is blown away by 15-year-old Connor McDavid, whose reputation as a wunderkind during his formative years outside of Toronto is being fortified in Erie. Too young to drive, McDavid is taking the Ontario Hockey League by storm.

“He looks like he's got it all,” Crosby said. “When I watched him play, he reminded me of myself.”

The natural

Comparing 15-year-olds with icons of Crosby's stature often isn't becoming, but then, it was Crosby who made the comment.

McDavid only sounds his age when speaking of his “hero.”

“I can't believe Sidney Crosby said that about me,” McDavid said. “I mean, that's my childhood hero. I'm a Pens fan because of him. I'm totally speechless. I'm amazed.”

Crosby brings out a clear modesty in McDavid. Although the Erie Otters' center comes across as humble in every conceivable setting, he has known from a young age that his talent is special. Like Crosby, McDavid did interviews while in grade school and has been a quasi-celebrity in Canada for years.

McDavid is only the third player to receive “exceptional status,” allowing him into the OHL at age 15. John Tavares, an eventual first overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 2009, was the first person to receive exceptional status.

“I was 8 when that happened,” McDavid said. “And I said to myself at the time that I wanted to be good enough to get into the OHL early. I always wanted that.”

The comparison

McDavid doesn't just love Crosby, but he also seems to emulate his game. Crosby, when assessing McDavid's game, sees immediate similarities.

They are both left-handed centers, and both wear the number of the year in which they were born. Ten years Crosby's junior, McDavid wears No. 97.

But there is more.

McDavid seems to possess that rare ability to always locate the open player, his passes during the Otters' home opener Friday in Erie throwing the crowd into a frenzy on multiple occasions.

“I like the way he distributes the puck,” Crosby said. “He seems to have all the tools.”

McDavid stands 5-foot-11, just like Crosby, and showcases the ability to accelerate through the neutral zone at warp speed like the Penguins' captain.

“He's so good,” Brampton Battalion forward Derek Froats said. “And he's only 15. Wow.”

A special debut

The Otters have struggled in recent years, both in the standings and in ticket sales. McDavid might change everything.

Playing before a near-sellout in his first game in Erie on Oct. 5, McDavid scored two pretty goals on odd-man rushes. On the first, McDavid slid to his knees, knocking in a pass from ice level. He received a standing ovation before and after the game. Some of the fans made the two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, hungry to see live hockey during the NHL lockout.

“I'm pretty happy with the start I've had,” he said. “And even more than that, just the way Erie has welcomed me. I'm far away from home, but the city of Erie has made me feel so comfortable.”

McDavid has produced nine points in seven games, hardly looking like a child playing against players ages 16-20.

In his second game, he burned touted Penguins' prospects Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta on the same rush, scoring an early goal against the London Knights.

Harrington and Maatta, considered among the OHL's best defensive defensemen, had difficulty with McDavid throughout the night.

“He was impressive,” Harrington said. “You can see he's going to be very, very good.”

The Future

McDavid, already projected by many scouts to be the first player selected in the 2015 NHL Draft, will play the next three seasons in Erie. The Erie Insurance Arena is under renovation, and for good reason: McDavid figures to fill seats there for all of his years with the Otters.

On the night of his second home game, many members of the Penguins organization were on hand to watch Harrington and Maatta. Of course, they couldn't help but notice the kid who was giving their respective draft picks fits.

Coach Dan Bylsma, when asked about the prodigy, could only shake his head and smile.

“Not bad for 15,” he said.

With the NHL locked out, junior hockey figures to receive more attention.

And when you apply for “exceptional status,” pressure is certain to follow.

McDavid's hero always had the ability to handle attention and pressure, even at the youngest of ages. This appears yet another trait he shares with Crosby.

“I know there will be pressure,” McDavid said. “And I'm OK with that. It's what people play hockey for, to be ‘The Guy.' I love when the arena is full. The more people that come out, the better. I actually sort of like the pressure.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1975.

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