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Wayne Gretzky says Sidney Crosby best in league now

PALM BEACH, Florida -- The start to Connor McDavid's season has been so impressive for the Edmonton Oilers that he's ignited a debate among hockey fans as to whether or not he's emerged as the game's best player.

In just his second season, McDavid leads the league in points with 36. He has the Oilers in first place in the Pacific Division after they finished last in 2015-16. There's an argument to be made, for sure.

But the Great One isn't having it just yet. Wayne Gretzky still views Penguins captain Sidney Crosby as No. 1.

"Sid is still the best player in hockey. That's a mantle you earn over time," Gretzky told ESPN.com. "It's one of those things where you have to earn that title."

After a late start to his season because of a concussion, Crosby has resumed the high-level play he displayed at the World Cup.

He's played eight fewer games than McDavid and still has climbed into the top five in scoring with 27 points. Crosby's 17 goals are tied for the league lead with Winnipeg rookie phenom Patrik Laine.

"Is Connor a great player? Absolutely. Does Connor have an opportunity to be the next Crosby? Absolutely," Gretzky said. "Right now, Sidney deserves to be known as the best player in the game. He's been the best player consistently in his career. He's won Stanley Cups and he's won gold medals. Until somebody takes that mantle away from him, he's still going to hold the crown."

Gretzky, who is partner and vice chairman of the Oilers, was in Florida for the NHL's board of governors meeting, which runs through Friday. The board is expected to get an update on where the new Las Vegas expansion team is in its building process.

Gretzky was a big part of growing the game in Los Angeles and Phoenix as a player and coach. He offered this advice for the new Vegas franchise: Get the kids in Nevada playing hockey, and you'll have a family of hockey fans eager to attend NHL games.

"You've got to really focus on youth hockey. We did that in L.A. We had a really good group of guys like Luc Robitaille, Marty McSorley, Kelly Hrudey and Tony Granato -- guys that understood that L.A. was a different place, and we had to do different things," Gretzky said. "Youth hockey becomes imperative. ... That's what Vegas has to do."