Connor McDavid’s every move at the Edmonton Oilers’ Orientation Camp has been detailed. His five-goal performance in a scrimmage was reported as news, a sign of things to come. It was a scrimmage. It means nothings.
That’s not to say that McDavid isn’t going to be something special or that tracking his progress isn’t a viable exercise, but it’s a July scrimmage; it’s not even an exhibition game against another NHL club. Pump the breaks.
Tuesday, Sportnet rolled out a video entitled “Maple Leafs Trio of Prospects Represent Future.” It talked about last year’s first-round pick, William Nylander, this year’s fourth-overall selection, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen, one of the two prospects acquired from Pittsburgh in the Phil Kessel deal and how they could be the future of the franchise. They’ve played zero NHL games. Combined. Nylander and Kapanen could play this year, while Marner would most likely benefit from being returned to the OHL than suffering through the opening stages of a rebuild with the big club. All three certainly show promise, but youthful promise doesn’t always translate into big league success.
In this country, cities and franchises pin their hopes on players every year. Sometimes it works out for the good, like last season in Calgary where “Johnny Hockey” and Sean Monahan spearheaded an unexpected resurgence and carried the Flames to the second round of the playoffs.
Other times, however, it doesn’t take. After having the first overall pick in three straight drafts and nearly a decade in the early stages of the first round, the Oilers shouldn’t have been in a position to win this year’s lottery; they were already supposed to be where their neighbours to the south are now.
But constantly loading up on offensive talent and cutting bait early on a goalie that developed into a Vezina Trophy finalist this year has left the team spinning its wheels and starting again again.
Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were supposed to lead a resurgence in “The City of Champions” and adding Nail Yakupov to the mix felt downright unfair, but Hall has battled injuries, “RNH” has yet to top 60 points in a season and Yakupov is closing in on officially being labeled as a bust.
Now a new savior, McDavid, has arrived and is being asked – just like the others before him – to resurrect this once-proud franchise the way Sidney Crosby did the Pittsburgh Penguins a decade earlier.
Rebuilding teams need to sell their fans on hope and pump the tires of their top prospects so that this year’s struggles are acceptable because of the promise that future seasons hold, but what happens when those prospects don’t pan out?
What happens when the 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids with the future of franchise heaped onto their shoulders become good players, but not great players? What happens if McDavid is great, but not the generational talent he’s expected to be?
Being hopeful is one thing, but building these young players up to be superstars and the ones to lead struggling teams to the Promised Land before they’ve played an actual NHL game is going overboard. More of these first-round lottery selections are going to become serviceable players than superstars – more Kyle Turris than Patrick Kane – and several are going to flame out entirely and become the next Gilbert Brule.
Rather than positioning them as the next great players in the club’s history, allow them to actually play for the franchise first. Be hopeful and enthusiastic, but be aware that banking on an 18-year-old who dominated other teenagers might not do the same right away when they start playing with grown men on a nightly basis.
McDavid looks like the real deal, but you can’t suffocate the kid with coverage. He’s still a kid and if the bar is set too high right out of the gate, even a very good season may end up being deemed not good enough and then what?