Connor McDavid brightens when asked a non-Connor McDavid question.
The Erie Otters captain is not the first nor last teen hockey phenom who's managed to exceed the reputation that preceded him into major junior hockey. Unlike Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr in generations prior, McDavid has had to come into his own amid a nonstop 24/7 media cycle, where every action can be analyzed ad infinitum. Plus there's the duty of captaining the Otters and making sure his teammates, who all sacrifice just as much in pursuit of their hockey dream, feel included.
"I'm a big believer that how you handle yourself and how you play and everything you do is better than just saying words," the 18-year-old McDavid said Sunday, prior to notching three assists in the Otters' 7-2 win over the Ottawa 67's in front of a sellout crowd of 6,212 in the nation's capital. "You can talk a good game as good as you want but if you're not doing it then why are they going to follow?
It's not hard to [spread the attention around]," adds McDavid, who has 72 points in 28 OHL games during a season separated by an injury and a triumphant turn for Team Canada at the world junior championship. "We have some great players here. [Otters centre] Dylan Strome's going to be a top 5-pick in the NHL draft, he`s obviously having an unbelievable year. By no means it's just me or a couple guys. We have a great team here and they're coming out to see the Erie Otters."
McDavid, of course, has been pegged as the hands-down first overall choice in the 2015 NHL draft since well before he entered the OHL as a 15-year-old in 2012-13. The Newmarket, Ont., native's anticipation was evident immediately that season. As he's matured physically, McDavid has also developed as extraordinarily nimble skater, the rare player who can seemingly accelerate without stride, a la a vintage Paul Coffey. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he also has the size to play in traffic.
By all accounts, McDavid has learned to to live with being a centre of attention.
"He makes time for everybody," says Otters wing Nick Baptiste, a Buffalo Sabres prospect. "There's never a time where he will deny anyone an autograph or a picture. He's so humbled by all the stuff he's achieved so far. It's amazing what kind of person he is. Off the ice, he'll always make time for little kids and families. It's really special."
McDavid has avoided the letdown that Team Canada players are sometimes prone to after returning to their club teams, counting 20 points in 10 games since slipping back in Erie's tricolour. He's also blocked out the amped-up atmosphere in visiting rinks, where the Otters have become a top road draw.
"You don't really notice," McDavid says. "You don't really think about that all."
1. What was your initial reaction to being No. 1 on the Central Scouting list?
"It's cool; it really doesn't mean anything. It's a nice honour and a kind of a dream come true, but you don't dream about being ranked No. 1 at the midterm rankings. It's all about what's down the line and what teams and GMs have to say to you. At the same time, it's nice."
2. When you heard about the World Cup of Hockey and the under-23 North American team, you probably want to play for Team Canada, but do you think having that under-23 team is a good thing?
"I think that would be good. Team Canada would be huge but that under-23 team would be really cool to be part of. But that's a long way off. That's not something I have to worry about right now." (Playing on a line with Jack Eichel would be fun?) "Yeah, that would be fun. Obviously he's a great player who does so many great things out there."
3. The last player in major junior who was drawing as much attention as you was Sidney Crosby in 2005; is it too much to be in the situation?
"I don't really think about it too much .... the rink is not full just because of one player."
4. When you were young, how important was Curtis Joseph (the former as an influence?
"He was important to me. I knew him pretty well with his son [Tristan Joseph] playing on the same team. and playing on his rink [at Joseph's ranch]. He was a pretty important important guy. No one handled himself better than he did when he was part of the Leafs organization. Wherever he's gone, he's been a key figure and the way he handles himself is pretty remarkable."
5. With the NHL season more than half over, do you consider the teams, the standings, as it the odds narrow on where you might be drafted?
"No, not really. It is what it is. If you get caught up in that you're going to find yourself not playing your game. At the end of the day, it matters that you're playing your game and doing your stuff and if you do that it should all work out."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.