In an ideal make-believe junior hockey world, Connor McDavid and his once-a-generation aptitude would only be associated with the Erie Otters, period, full stop.
In 2008-09, the last time the Ontario Hockey League boasted the hands-down, coulda-gone-No. 1-a-year-earlier-too NHL draft prospect, John Tavares ended up going from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights in a deadline deal following the world junior championship. A lot would have to happen for that history to repeat itself — and it should be topmost that Tavares reportedly wanted a change of scenery to play out his time in the OHL — but perhaps it shouldn't be dismissed totally out of hand. Over the Labour Day weekend, long-time league chronicler Mike Farwell gave voice to the scenario that could play out later this fall.
"He is as dynamic as they come, as good a player as I've ever seen in this league. When you've got him on your team I think you're expecting big things. The big question around that is let's see how the Erie Otters look come trade deadline time [in December and January]. If they think they've got a shot, McDavid will be a key piece of that. If things look a little bit different, maybe they think of moving McDavid and restocking the cupboard so they don't go through a long lull after a long championship run. But I think the Erie Otters right now look like that [contending] team." (The Pipeline Show, Aug. 29, starting at 6:40)
Okay, maybe that seems like thin gruel before it's put into context. The Otters stack up relatively well in the OHL's loaded Western Conference. At the same time, Erie is facing the potential double whammy of losing their import scorer, Washington Capitals first-rounder Andre Burakovsky, and failing to replace him if 18-year Anton Karlsson elects to stay in his native Sweden. Burakovsky was McDavid's favourite finisher last season.
It could be a real pickle. Or not. In '08-09, the then 18-year-old Tavares was in his fourth year of junior, when it is commonplace for players who know they'll be turning pro to seek a chance to join a contender. That doesn't happen in a star's third season unless the situation has really deteriorated.
Just something to think about on a slow news day. Ideally, it would not happen, although it would provide a lot of media fodder. The Otters' fans watched a lot of abject hockey — try finishing 19th overall four times in seven seasons, the last being McDavid's age-15 year — before getting the payoff of a great season last winter. The team has also augmented its roots in the Pennsylvania city, finally putting to rest long-running relocation rumours.
True, sometimes major junior teams are left with no return for a star player who graduates to the NHL as a teen. But they might as well have the down cycle that as a reality of the junior game after seeing how far they can go with their superstar.