(Reuters) - Connor McDavid, a Canadian ice hockey prodigy whose skills have been compared to Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky’s, was selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the first pick of the National Hockey League Draft on Friday.
The 18-year-old center’s selection was not a surprise to anyone as he has been considered the most coveted prospect for years given his hockey sense, skating wizardry, deft passing and vision for the game’s finer offensive points.
McDavid said the sky-high expectations that await him when the 2015-16 NHL season opens in October, along with comparisons to some of the game’s greatest players, are nothing new.
“It’s something that I’ve been dealing with for a long time now and there’s nothing I can do about them,” he said shortly after slipping on his No. 97 blue and orange Oilers jersey.
“The hardest person on me is me and my expectations exceed any of those put on me so I am just going to do the best that I can and go out there and work as hard as I can.”
Considered the NHL’s most marketable prospect since Sidney Crosby was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2005, McDavid racked up a staggering 120 points in 47 games while playing junior hockey for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters last season.
The hype surrounding him was so intense that there was as much focus on the bottom of the NHL standings last season as the top given the increased odds of winning a weighted lottery, and rights to the top pick, the more a team lost.
McDavid joins a struggling Edmonton team that has missed the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons despite owning the first pick in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 NHL Drafts.
The Buffalo Sabres used the draft’s second pick to choose American center Jack Eichel, also considered a can’t-miss prospect that experts say would’ve been the top choice in most any other draft.
The Boston University center is one of the most highly-touted American prospects ever following a season where the freshman won the Hobey Baker Award, U.S. college hockey’s top individual prize, after leading the nation with 71 points in 40 games.
Picking third, the Arizona Coyotes selected McDavid’s Erie teammate, center Dylan Strome, who is one of the more creative playmakers in the draft and gives the team size and skill.
With the fourth pick, the Toronto Maple Leafs took high-scoring Mitchell Marner, a smallish, dynamic winger who has drawn comparisons to three-time Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.
The Carolina Hurricanes rounded out the top five by picking Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, considered a smart, puck-moving blueliner who already has NHL size.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Cameron French