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Erie Otters’ Connor McDavid, OHL rookie of the year, knew he had to deliver in Year 1

Connor McDavid had 66 points in 63 games as the OHL's youngest player (Getty Images)

Connor McDavid comes off as well-drilled on the hockey star's role — don't come off overly impressed by anything you have done, do not get set up to look like a failure by setting a specific goal.

While accepting the Emms Family Award as the Ontario Hockey League's top rookie, McDavid did allude to the expectations heaped on a 15-year-old who receives exceptional status to play major junior. Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad was rookie of the year after earning exceptional status in 2011-12, meaning McDavid had to follow suit, which he did by putting up 66 points in 63 games as the OHL's youngest player. While toiling for a team which finished second-last.

"I know Aaron won it last year and there was a little bit of pressure, personally, being the exceptional player and last year's exceptional player won it," McDavid said on Thursday morning. "I wanted to keep that tradition going.

"Obviously some big names have won this award and being in that category with them is a tremendous honour," McDavid added.

By sheer coincidence, McDavid accepted the award in the wake of news this spring's puck prodigy, Detroit-area defenceman Sean Day, will not be taken before the No. 4 overall choice in Saturday's OHL priority selection draft. That might help keep the pressure on Day to be all things to all people realistic.

McDavid, who along with Mathew Barzal is considered the best 1997-birthdate player in Canada, had a fishbowl existence in Erie. Driven by curiosity and the timeless eagerness to be quick to discovering the next star, the Newmarket, Ont., native was in demand wherever the Otters went.

"There was the rush of people when we were on the road," Otters managing partner and general manager Sherry Bassin said. "Then USA Today, Montreal Gazette... the sports channels in Canada came in for a couple days at a time, setting up a studio. From the way he handled it, you'd never know he was a 15-, 16-year-old.

"We always said he was 15 going on 28 because he was even that way on the ice. He was always humble, embarrassed to talk about himself and he would always refer to the team. You could see it with his abilities and how hard he works. He's destined — and I don't want to come off sounding arrogant — for the big time. Whoever gets that opportunity to get him, you build championship teams with his special ability."

The difference in voting points was a landslide compared to last season's balloting, when Ekblad received the honour. McDavid received an 85-29-22 margin in voting points over Sarnia Sting right wing Nikolay Goldobin and Brampton Battalion left wing Blake Clarke. (The Oshawa Generals' Michael Dal Colle, Kingston Frontenacs' Sam Bennett and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds' Sergey Tolchinsky were the other finalists.) Last season, Ekblad had a 70-55-26 in the margins over runners-up, Radek Faksa (a Dallas Stars first-round pick) and Max Domi.

Performed on a non-playoff team

McDavid's first year came amid a continued struggle for the Otters, who finished 19-40-4-5 and went through a midseason coaching change from Robbie Ftorek to Kris Knoblauch. (The franchise is also continually rumoured to be moving from Pennsylvania to Ontario.) McDavid seemed to carry on like all that happened on high, where it was in someone else's hands.

"At the beginning of the year, I always felt that we were right there and that helped me keep pushing forward and working hard," he said. "We had a little push there around Christmastime and after Christmas, but it started to get away from us a bit. It was really hard on me and hard on my teammates. It was tough some days. But we all managed to support each other and I can't wait to come back and have a winning team next year."

"Coming into a rookie year, the focus is just to settle in and I was fortunate to have a good enough year, I never would have been able to do it without my teammates."

'Always looking forward to the next day'

Bassin acknowledged the fact McDavid was a landslide winner while on a struggling team was no mean feat.

"It multiplies what he's about and it multiplies his abilities, how special he is. You never ever heard him complain about that or talk about that in any matter. He's told me how we were going to get winning and he was always looking forward to the next day and how we were going to do it. That tells me how special his ability. Could you imagine

"I'm luckier than most people — and our organization is luckier — because we got to see what a special person he is, what a job his parents [father Brian and mother Kelly] have done with him."

Erie will likely choose centre Dylan Strome, a playmaker who might have the vision to be able to anticipate McDavid's moves, with its No. 2 overall choice in Saturday's draft. Strome, the younger sibling of New York Islanders prospect Ryan Strome, also played in the same Toronto Marlboros minor hockey organization as McDavid.

Top priority will be trying to get the Otters back into the playoffs after back-to-back misses. McDavid noted his former Marlboros linemate, Bennett, chirped him digitally after helping the Kingston Frontenacs squeak in on the final day of the season.

"Sammy was pretty funny," McDavid said. "He sent me a text letting me know I didn't make the playoffs. It was good for him and good for his team, but obviously I'm a little bit jealous. Hopefully next year I can tease him about us beating them in the finals, wouldn't that be nice."

McDavid, Dal Colle, Kingston right wing Spencer Watson, Kingston defenceman Roland McKeown, London defenceman Nikita Zadorov and Plymouth Whalers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic were named to the rookie first all-star team. Bennett and Sault Ste. Marie's Jared McCann tied for the centre spot on the second team. Clarke and Goldobin were named as the wings, along with the Ottawa 67’s Jacob Middleton and Saginaw Spirit's Brandon Prophet on defence and Peterborough Petes goalie Michael Giugovaz.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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