EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid had just completed his first preseason game as an NHL player. He performed just about how the player tabbed as the best prospect since Sidney Crosby should have performed. He had two assists. He was named the game's first star.
After the game, he was in front of his stall peeling off equipment. A media scrum quickly formed around a teammate a few stalls over. Nobody immediately went to McDavid.
There seemed to be some confusion on how the game's next superstar was going to be handled. Would he get his own scrum in the center of the room? Maybe he'd get news conference treatment like coach Todd McLellan's.
The answer came quickly.
Go talk to him. He's no different than anyone else on the team.
Soon, a crowd surrounded McDavid, who softly but in short order answered every question he was asked.
Yeah, it was exciting and fun to get out there. Yes, it's going to take a while to get used to his linemates. McDavid seemed a bit embarrassed to have been named first star, and he quickly pointed out he didn't do much at the start of the game.
"It's a process," he said. "It takes time. I thought we did some good stuff and stuff we need to work on as well."
It was polite and understated, and the underlying message was that he wanted no more attention on his game than absolutely necessary.
That was a universal theme at the outset of Oilers camp. Mention McDavid in a media session with McLellan, and he's quick to point out McDavid is just one of many young players for whom he has high expectations. It's the same strategy from his teammates. Bring up McDavid's rare on-ice skill set, and they prefer to talk about how good a kid he is off the ice.
They've already become protective of him. They are already trying to limit expectations of a player entering the NHL with more hype than anyone in a decade.
"That's been my M.O.," Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said.
Chiarelli said he was asked to give statistical projections for McDavid's rookie season, and he answered 20 and 40. Some interpreted that as 20 goals and 40 assists.
He meant 20 goals and 40 points.
Really? The GM would be OK with that?
The answer for both is 11 goals. But neither of those players, as good as they were, entered the league with such hype and expectation.
"I'm saying 20 goals. That's twice as much [as Kessel and Seguin]," Chiarelli said, doubling down on his stance. "I'd be happy with that."
It was quite a contrast to the awe McDavid's potential provided the NHL stars who passed through Toronto for the NHL Player Tour in September.
Steven Stamkos famously said McDavid was already a better player than Stamkos was now. John Tavares, who skated with McDavid this summer and has known him since he was 15 years old, raved about his skating.
"His ability to get to another gear in his skating -- you think he's going top speed, and all of a sudden, there's another gear," Tavares said. "I've never seen anyone skate like that."
Flyers forward Sam Gagner wasn't at the NHL Player Tour, but like Tavares, he has known McDavid for years. Gagner is as familiar with McDavid's game as any NHL player.
"I've seen him on the ice with other NHLers. He's at another level," Gagner said. "His speed -- I think a lot of times, young guys have trouble adjusting to the pace at the NHL level. His pace is already there. He plays with such a high pace and level of speed. He's going to do great."
McDavid's speed is remarkable, eclipsed only by his ability to make plays at that high speed. The way he glides, well, it almost defies the laws of physics.
"It seems like he almost picks up speed when he glides. It's almost impossible," Gagner said. "There are certain guys that glide better than other guys. He's the best glider I've ever seen."
It's not like those in Edmonton aren't seeing these McDavid attributes. They see them. They just don't want to contribute to the load on McDavid's shoulders, a load that has been building since McDavid was identified as the next great thing when he was barely a teenager.
McDavid has personal goals and thoughts on how he hopes his first NHL season plays out, but he's smart enough to keep them to himself.
"That's something that doesn't need to be shared," McDavid said. "Just kind of internally, you'll know."
McDavid's first order of business appears to be trying to fit in as much as possible in training camp. He temporarily moved out of his room at Taylor Hall's house to join his fellow rookies at a hotel during training camp. He's on the ice with other rookies picking up pucks after practice. If he could get away with it, he'd let the veterans do all the talking for him in the media.
He does this out of respect for hockey culture and as a clear sign to teammates that he's joining this camp not to steal the spotlight but to join in the fight to end a playoff drought that extends to 2006.
"He just wants to win and fit in," his father, Brian McDavid, said as part of an interview for a coming ESPN The Magazine feature. "He doesn't want to be the center of attention. It just comes with the territory."
McDavid is also smart enough to know the great ones aren't judged just by point totals and the splash they make when they enter the NHL. They're judged by Stanley Cups.
Why has Jonathan Toews passed Crosby in the minds of some hockey people as the best player in the world? Because Toews has already won three Stanley Cups.
Winning and how McDavid can help make it happen in Edmonton were the focus of the first conversation between McDavid and Chiarelli. There was no doubt the Oilers were going to draft McDavid when Chiarelli sat down with him in Buffalo as part of the Oilers' draft interview with their future star. That didn't stop Chiarelli from grilling him a bit.
"It certainly wasn't an easy interview," McDavid said with a laugh.
The question Chiarelli remembers most wasn't about point totals or winning a Calder Trophy. It was about helping the Oilers win. Chiarelli prefaced the question with what he observed in McDavid's OHL playoff series against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: how they were all over him, and he managed to fight through it to help the Erie Otters win the OHL's Western Conference. He finished the series with 19 points.
"I said, 'Tell me how that series -- how you played in that series -- can help us win in the future,'" Chiarelli recalled.
What Chiarelli doesn't remember is McDavid's exact answer. But for a GM who has sat through coached-up clichés from prospects in those combine interviews, he remembered a very earnest, thoughtful answer from the player who would soon become the cornerstone of the franchise Chiarelli is charged with turning around. He walked away even more impressed with McDavid.
"There certainly were some tough questions and questions I wasn't necessarily expecting," McDavid said of the interview. "I thought I stood my ground well. I think it was a little bit to try and test me to see what I might say."
The tests will continue for McDavid.
If the first test of his first NHL training camp was acclimating himself to teammates, he passed that one exceedingly well. His deflection of attention has helped him blend right in with everyone else in camp. After a few days of camp, he was given a day off from addressing the media. Sometimes when that happens, it's met with resistance. We want the stars, and we want them all the time.
This time, however, resistance was nonexistent. There were other stories to write, and the spotlight shifted to other players on the Oilers. That's just what McDavid preferred.