MONTREAL — With Connor McDavid, whose voice can be as soft as his hands, one has to listen closely. There was a trace element of how hockey's anointed next one finds the degree to which his play is being analyzed in this world junior championship absurd after he put up three points during Canada's 4-0 Group A win over Germany on Saturday at the Bell Centre.
The top NHL draft prospect, refreshingly for a 17-year-old who's supposed to just go along with what the adults put to him, refused to play into broader narrative that his one goal and two assists was part of any bounce-back effort, let alone was part of any mano-a-mano duel with Team USA's Jack Eichel (T-minus 4 days till that one, by the way). McDavid had a team-high six shots in the opening 8-0 win vs. Slovakia while drawing the highest quality of competition. Saturday, he simply had more puck luck.
"I don't know, there wasn't a whole lot of difference other than the puck was going in," McDavid said when asked to compare his two efforts. "That's about it. I know you guys [the media] probably thought I played terrible last night but in reality I had my fair chances and couldn't cash."
"I haven't scored in a long time there, missing a whole bunch of games [after breaking a bone in his right hand six weeks ago]," McDavid added. "Scoring goals is fun."
That is how the best do it; stay in their orbit and look for any slight, real or imagined, to build up motivation.
McDavid punched the glass with his right hand — the same one he sustained a fracture in during a fight on Nov. 11 in an OHL game, minutes after scoring a goal — after jamming a rebound by Germany goalie Kevin Reich just 4:11 into the game. Some would wonder if that was an indicator that the hand is fine, but McDavid didn't play along.
"That's a little in-depth, to be talking about the celebration," said McDavid, who also picked up a primary assist on Curtis Lazar's goal 12:42 into the first and the second helper on Madison Bowey's snipe with 4:16 left in the third that rounded out the scoring. "It was just kind of in the moment. It's fun to celebrate with the fans, I guess, and there were some fans over there, so whatever."
In a sense, that perspective was almost as good as the fact McDavid found a way to produce against the tightly structured Team Germany team, whom defenceman Shea Theodore said "were playing a real tight game, a lot tighter than the Slovaks last night." Granted, this might be dollar store psychology, but a young player who was overwhelmed by the attention might just tell people what he thinks they want to hear.
Observers are making a mountain out of a couple games that are just a few data points among thousands when it comes to judging who should go first overall in the draft. Those who vaulted Seth Jones over Nathan MacKinnon in two seasons ago when the former's Team USA bounced Canada in the 2013 world junior — and might have switched back when MacKinnon's Halifax Mooseheads won the Memorial Cup over Jones' Portland Winterhawks —,might want to think that over.
The McEichel storyline hits on two major fault lines in the hockey world — Canada vs. America and major junior vs. college. Plus McDavid being the top pick next summer has seemed like a done deal for years. It's understandable why it commands such attention.
"Everybody's speaking about them, and I kind of like it," Finland's 18-year-old Mikko Rantanen, who has two goals in two games and is also in his draft year, said on Saturday afternoon. "Other guys can go lower on the radar."
'He's too talented'
There's still a person somewhere underneath that on-ice persona, though. McDavid keeps that concealed very well most of the time, but prior to counting on Saturday in front of 12,733 at the Bell Centre, he simply hadn't scored in 46 days, since his foray into fighting.
"In his case, you have to be patient with a guy like that," said Team Canada coach Benoît Groulx, who hasn't seemed too concerned about McDavid's point totals. "He's too talented. You know at a certain point he's going to find a way to make a difference. Tonight, right off the bat on the power play, he got that goal and that gave him confidence.
"You know, there's a lot of pressures on these young guys," added Groulx, whose team, counting the WJC pre-competition, has not allowed a goal in 189 minutes 42 seconds, dating back to midway through the third period of a tune-up game against Sweden and William Nylander. "I think it's a matter for everyone on our team, and other teams too, just to come here and play to win.
"Sometimes you're thinking too much. In this case, he was out four to five weeks. He's not used to going one, two, three games without having points. I think that he reacted the right way."
Lazar, whose cachet as the captain on loan from the Ottawa Senators makes him the wily veteran, said he told McDavid "relax and smile, we're playing the game we love," after his linemate got on the board. Be that as it may, McDavid's form of self-direction might not involve that. If indeed that's the case, time will tell whether it's good or bad.
The fact he didn't obligingly provide a soundbyte about having the piano removed from his back might proof he expects to generate offence at this level, as a matter of course. Some nights that will pay off on the scoresheet.
"It's nice but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter how you are doing," he said when asked if there was any relief about him breaking the goose egg. "It's all about the team. If the team's winning games that's all that really matters."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.