Friday, June 26, 2015


As we head into the National Hockey League Draft tonight in Florida, all eyes will be on Connor McDavid. Projected to be the first overall selection by the Edmonton Oilers, McDavid's arrival in Edmonton will be the most anticipated by a hockey player since Wayne Gretzky joined them in 1978.

On June 8, 2015, while in Toronto to attend a charity event, Gretzky spoke about McDavid during a media scrum.

"Hockey is an amazing sport because when Gordie Howe retired everyone said, well what's going to happen to the game," Gretzky remarked concerning the impact of an icon leaving the scene. "When Wayne Gretzky retired the same question (was asked)."

"We just seem to have all these great people coming along," Number 99 noted about hockey's succession process when it comes to future superstars.

On McDavid going to his former hockey home, Gretzky stated, "Connor is a nice young man and everything I've seen of him and read, he's going to absolutely love Edmonton. The people in Edmonton are going to treat him with kid-gloves and be patient."

Commenting on what awaits the most prized asset in the class of 2015, Gretzky said, "It's a big step for him to go from junior hockey to the NHL. I got a little bit lucky as I went from junior hockey to the WHA."

Gretzky left little doubt that all the praise being heaped upon McDavid as hockey's 'Next One' is justified. "I think Connor McDavid is the best player we've seen since Lemieux and Crosby. I think he is going to have a great career in Edmonton."

Did he get the chance to watch the draft lottery live when Edmonton won the top selection?

"We watched it live," Gretzky told the assembled media. "I told my wife we had to watch it, but she said, 'why do we have to watch it, Edmonton's going to get the pick.' She predicted it, not me."

Later, during a panel discussion, Gretzky once again touched on the aspect of new young talent coming up to replace the giants of the sport when they hang up their skates for good.

"Well, the kids come along like Crosby to Stamkos and Toews,"Gretzky said echoing his previous comments on this subject.

And there is no better example of this than Gretzky himself. Back on November 2, 1978, when he was dealt from Indianapolis to the Edmonton Oilers in a transaction between the two WHA clubs, a hockey legend was making his exit from the game.

On November 1, 1978, the day before Wayne Gretzky was shipped to Edmonton, Bobby Hull announced his retirement as a player with the WHA Winnipeg Jets.

Prior to jumping to the World Hockey Association in the summer of 1972, Hull was an NHL superstar with Chicago. In 1961, his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup and in two subsequent seasons Hull was named the winner of the Hart Trophy (NHL-MVP).

While the door closed on 'The Golden Jets' brilliant career, a key was turned on another to welcome 'The Great One.'

In his first year of pro hockey, Gretzky had only 8 games under his belt with the Indianapolis Racers prior to his move to Edmonton. The following campaign, Gretzky was in the National Hockey League as the Oilers were part of the NHL-WHA merger. The merger also resulted in Hull briefly returning to the ice to play 27 games for Winnipeg and Hartford in '79-'80.

By this time, the guard had changed and Gretzky represented the games future.

As Connor McDavid looks forward to life in the National Hockey League, I wondered if Gretzky had an itch to get back into the game in some capacity.

"No, but listen, everything I have in my life is due to hockey," Gretzky answered in response to my question asked during his press availability. "I have enough going on in my life right now."

Included in this mix was a planned trip to last weekends U.S. Open, one of golf's elite tournaments.

"We're going to the U.S. Open next week with our grandson and hopefully, our son-in-law does well,"    Gretzky noted of his future plans.

Gretzky's son-in-law, Dustin Johnson, was in contention for his first win of a major, but his putter let him down on the final hole during Sunday's last round.

Tonight and over much of this weekend, it will be Connor McDavid's turn in the spotlight. And I'm sure we will hear Wayne Gretzky's name mentioned a few times.

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