Masters: Canada's McDavid will consider being more selfish

Mark Masters
12/27/2013 9:29:08 AM
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MALMO, SWEDEN – Santa Claus paid a visit to Team Canada's Christmas Eve dinner on Tuesday evening at Örenäs Castle, about a 40-minute drive outside Malmo where this year's World Junior Hockey Championship is being held.

And the big guy in red came armed with gifts and scouting reports. He called up the players one at a time and offered a quick hockey-related message. "That was quite the shot you had last game," Santa bellowed when Connor McDavid was on his lap, "Shoot, shoot, shoot."

WATCH: Behind the scenes at Team Canada's Christmas Eve dinner

And the 16-year-old listened, putting the puck on net four times against Germany on Monday, matching Anthony Mantha and Bo Horvat for the team lead in the tournament opener, but came away empty-handed. McDavid did notch two assists in his world junior debut, but that first goal is proving elusive.

"I missed a whole bunch of chances that I'm pretty embarrassed about, but I thought I played an alright game," he said.

WATCH: Bob McKenzie breaks down McDavid's performance against Germany

If there's one criticism McDavid has faced recently it's that he sometimes passes up his own scoring chance to set up an even better one with a higher degree of difficulty for a teammate. It's something he's well aware of.  

"I know one of the big criticisms from other people is that I don't shoot the puck enough and I'm always looking for the fancy play and the pass so I try and listen to that and I do try and shoot the puck as much as I can," McDavid said. "I just try and make the right play."

McDavid, more often than not, makes the right play. For example, he found his way behind the Swiss defence on Monday and scored on a breakaway in Canada's final pre-tournament game. That was the goal Santa was talking about.  

"He sees the ice so well," said head coach Brent Sutter. "You look at that goal he got. After he scored, the guys were all looking at each other on the bench and asking, 'Where did he come from?' He just knows how to play the game. He's smart, intelligent and he's got great sense for the game, tremendous hockey sense and he's got the skill-set to go with it."

"There was just a quick turnover," McDavid recalled, "and I saw Mantha had the puck there and everyone kind of jumped forward on their team so I just kind of took a step to the offensive side, which I shouldn't be doing too much, but it worked out, I guess."

That hockey sense, that ability to know what moment to strike, that's a key reason why McDavid is seen as the slam-dunk choice to go first overall in the 2015 NHL draft. And that's why any critique of his game at this moment in time – when he's just become the sixth 16-year-old to ever make the Canadian world junior team – seems ridiculously nitpicky. 

"It's probably nitpicky for sure," agreed Sam Reinhart, when asked if his linemate needs to shoot more. "He's a great player. How does he have so many goals if he doesn't shoot? That's my question."

When he left for Canada's selection camp, McDavid was eighth in Ontario Hockey League scoring and third on the Erie Otters with 12 goals and 50 points in 31 games. He helped Canada win gold at the 2013 World Under-18 Championship, leading all scorers with eight goals and 14 points in just seven games.

Reinhart and McDavid also played together at the under-18 level and formed instant chemistry. That chemistry has carried over to the under-20 level, even though McDavid has been shifted to left wing. Horvat has played between the two "youngsters" and it's the one trio Sutter refused to tinker with when he juggled every other line coming off a disappointing loss to the Swedes in pre-tournament play Sunday. 

"They've probably been our most consistent line since Day 1 so that's why I wanted to keep them together," the coach explained.

"It's nice," said Reinhart. "We felt like we were playing well together. It's nice when he has that confidence to keep putting us out there together."

It was also a sign of just how important that line and McDavid in particular will be to the team's success. Goals may be hard to come by later in the tournament and McDavid, who also gets time on the power play, will be expected to shoulder a big part of the load. Although he doesn't see it that way.

"No, I don't feel that pressure," he argued. "We have 13 unbelievably gifted forwards here that can score at any time. If it's my line or any other line, it really doesn't matter to me. I don't think offence is something that we need to worry about."

Sometimes it's easy to forget the phenom is just 16 years-old. He was taking his driving test on the day the Canadian selection camp roster was announced. And yet his maturity suggests his mental game is just as advanced as his physical gifts.

The Newmarket, Ontario native is grateful for the opportunity, but not overcome by the moment.

On Thursday, he officially joined Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Boumeester and Sidney Crosby as 16-year-olds to wear the Maple Leaf at the world juniors.  

"It's pretty special. Just to be named in the same breath as those guys is something to be pretty proud of," he said.

"It was a dream come true. It's pretty special to be here, but now that we're here, we know what we want to do and we'll take it day by day."

WATCH: McDavid talks to Nabil Karim about his first ever world junior game

So what will McDavid remember about his first world junior game?

"Probably just the Canadian fans who made the trip. I was not expecting that at all. It was unbelievable to see.

"I noticed them right away, I got chills skating out for the first little bit."

Any nerves considering the stage?

"Yeah, I was a little nervous," McDavid admits. "Any time you wear the Canadian jersey, there are nerves that come along with that."

Connor McDavid (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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