Connor McDavid's first game about more than points

ST. LOUIS -- More than anything, there was curiosity. Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid was making his NHL debut with more hype surrounding him than any player since Sidney Crosby entered the league.

Since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in June, McDavid had been hailed as a franchise superstar capable of returning the Oilers to the same heights Wayne Gretzky once charted.

So yeah, people wanted to see how his game would translate against a veteran, heavy, physical St. Louis Blues team.

And it wasn't just the packed press box, filled with more out-of-towners than when the Blues were competing in the playoffs last spring. Or the scouts who came in large-enough quantity that a makeshift second row had to be constructed for this game.

It was also Blues fans, who were showing up anyway but got the added bonus of potentially witnessing a bit of history.

"I'm excited about Connor McDavid," Blues fan Kris Wheeler said before the game, wearing a St. Louis jersey autographed by former Blue B.J. Crombeen. "I hope he's the next great player to come alongside Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. It's exciting. We're devoted to the Blues but we're definitely excited."

Even the Blues themselves felt it.

"You know what? As a player and a fan of the game, I'm excited to see what type of player he's going to be," Blues forward Troy Brouwer said the morning of the game. "His skill and ability in junior [hockey] is undeniable. ... If he can continue to do that in the NHL, it's nothing but good for the game. As players, we want to see that. Just not against us."

The Blues did well there. They beat the Oilers 3-1.

The final stat line on McDavid's first NHL game will be forgettable. He had no goals, no assists. He was a minus-1. His first career shot on goal didn't come until the third period. He didn't win his first faceoff until the second period and finished with just a 23 percent success rate there.

Perhaps the best thing for McDavid is that it's now behind him. If he could be a star in the league without the attention that comes with it, he would surely select that option.

"You can move on from here," McDavid said after the game. "I know there's a little bit of attention on it. I'm glad it's over and certainly enjoyed the day and will remember it for awhile."

What will he remember most?

"I don't really know, to be honest," he said. "It's kind of all a blur."

He didn't get on the score sheet, but McDavid showed glimpses of what's going to make him special.

There were a couple of bounces that went the other way early in the game that could have been breakaways. Another moment, he sent the puck up the ice to himself while trying to split two Blues defenders. He nearly pulled it off and still helped the Oilers gain the offensive zone in the process.

On his first shot on goal, he showed off the speed that will become his trademark. But it wasn't just that speed, it was his ability to be deceptive with where he was headed at such a high rate.

On an Oilers power play, he got the puck in front of the net and spun around to his backhand before running out of room by the post. It was as good an opportunity as he had all night.

"I had a couple chances that I need to score on," McDavid said.

He got better as the game went on. His best chances came later in the game, something his coach found encouraging.

Playing a team as physically demanding as the Blues can wear down an 18-year-old kid. Yet McDavid battled through it with a strong third period. He was on the ice for the final minute of the game, with the Oilers fighting to tie it.

"If you lose your composure or lose your focus, that tends to be your worst period," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "It says a lot about him as a young player. He could stick with it. When we needed him to be an offensive threat, he was."

What Oilers teammate Matt Hendricks liked best was that McDavid was playing to win the game, not trying to make a splash in his NHL debut. He didn't see a kid cheating to try to get a goal in Game 1. He saw someone playing defense and allowing his offensive opportunities to come within the flow of the game.

There was a level of respect for the NHL game that showed in the way McDavid played.

"I look at the point totals he had in junior and such. He's not coming into the NHL thinking that's what he's got to do right now," Hendricks said. "He's not thinking, 'I've got to get 120 points to prove who I am.' He's trying to play the game to win a hockey game as a team."

Hendricks concluded with this: "The best players in the league play that way and they end up winning Cups."

The first goal will come. The first dazzling assist will happen. It just won't be forced. We're one game into the McDavid era in Edmonton and the positive wasn't the result, it's simply that the era has finally started.

"We're talking 60 minutes into a 15-, 20-year career," McLellan said. "He's going to get a lot better as time goes on."