TORONTO — Wayne Gretzky can’t offer Connor McDavid much advice about how to handle the pressure of the NHL draft later this month. The Great One never went through the experience himself.
But on June 26, he’ll be watching with interest from his summer home in Idaho as the Edmonton Oilers, his former team, select first overall and likely take the highly touted McDavid.
“They’re going to learn a lot as they go along here because you have to experience it yourself to know exactly what it’s all about,” Gretzky said of the McDavid family. “The good news is he’s going to a wonderful city and the people there are going to treat him with a great deal of respect.
“They’re going to idolize this young man because he’s that good of a hockey player.”
While Gretzky has done it all in hockey, he was never drafted to a professional league.
Instead, Gretzky signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association in 1978 as a free agent straight out of major junior. Gretzky was traded to Edmonton later that year and moved with the Oilers to the National Hockey League when it merged with the WHA in 1979.
“I never really thought about not getting drafted. It wasn’t something that ever bothered me,” Gretzky said Tuesday at the Toronto Blue Jays game, where he was attending a reception for the Joe Carter Classic celebrity golf tournament. “Even when I signed in the WHA, originally I signed for seven years, I really felt like I was going to play in the WHA for seven years and I might not even get into the NHL until I was 25.
“I’ve never really contemplated or worried about the fact that I wasn’t drafted.”
The one time Gretzky was drafted — by the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 1977 — he was not the top pick. Tom McCarthy and Steve Peters were selected ahead of him.
“I wasn’t even the first pick and that’s OK,” said Gretzky. “I was really excited and proud of the fact that I went to Sault Ste. Marie. I really loved playing there for the year I played.”
Gretzky, who holds 40 NHL regular-season records and 15 more in the post-season, believes McDavid will be one of the all-time great players and could bring a Stanley Cup back to Edmonton.
“I’ll be the first guy to shake his hand if he breaks my records or if he breaks some of my records,” said Gretzky. “Good for him, that’s what it’s all about.”
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press