When Connor McDavid was named captain of Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, nobody batted an eye.
The 19-year-old McDavid is not only the best player on the team, he is also a natural born leader so of course he should be wearing the C.
It is also true that had Team North America named Aaron Ekblad or Morgan Rielly as captain, players with more NHL experience, their selection would not have been questioned either. Both young defencemen have demonstrated tremendous leadership with the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, and would have been fine leaders of this 23-and-under group that is expected to throw a little scare into their older competition.
But McDavid will be the face of Team North America just as he is the face of the Edmonton Oilers, which begs the question, how long until he is named captain of his NHL team? At 19, McDavid might seem to be a little green to be handed such a pressure-filled role on a team that has been spinning its wheels for too long, but that really is not the case. The Richmond Hill, Ont., native has been in the spotlight for years and nothing about being the captain of a team expected to turn the corner beginning this season will prove overwhelming to him.
Besides, it's not like he’d be the first kid to be anointed the leader of his hockey team. Vincent Lecavalier was just 19 when he was named captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999. Same goes for Gabriel Landeskog when he was named captain of the Colorado Avalanche in 2012. Jonathan Toews was 20 when he was named captain of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008 and Steve Yzerman was 21 when he became captain of the Detroit Red Wings in 1986.
There are those who believe that wearing the C is simply a token gesture and that the best teams are stocked with leaders whether they wear a letter on their sweater or not. Not me. I believe a good captain can be a difference maker.
While it may be true that great teams have plenty of solid leadership, being the captain of a team comes with responsibility. Think about Mark Messier, considered one of the greatest leaders in all of sports, taking over the captaincy with the Oilers after Wayne Gretzky departed for the Los Angeles Kings. Messier held things together and led the Oilers to a fifth Stanley Cup championship.
Then there was the Messier who did the seemingly impossible by leading the New York Rangers to their first Cup victory in 54 years in 1994. Aside from guaranteeing a victory in a pivotal game in the semi-final against the tough New Jersey Devils, and then coming through with the game-winning goal, Messier helped keep things together when the Rangers seemed to be on the verge of collapsing after building a 3-1 lead against the Vancouver Canucks before winning Game 7.
McDavid is a serious young man, much the same as Toews, and yet he seems ready to take on the role as captain of the Oilers. Having missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons, the Oilers appear to be heading in the right direction. McDavid played superbly in his rookie season scoring 16 goals and 48 points in 45 games; a season cut short by a shoulder injury.
In the off-season Edmonton signed veteran free agent Milan Lucic and traded left winger Taylor Hall to the Devils for defenceman Adam Larsson. Both acquisitions should assist the Oilers in becoming playoff candidates.
The trick, should McDavid be named the Oilers captain for this season, will be in insulating him – easing him into the role. Lucic will be a big help in that regard. While the captain of NHL teams is expected to deal with the media virtually every work day, perhaps the Oilers public relations staff could assists in keeping McDavid’s scrums limited to around five minutes on some days rather than have him answer questions endlessly. On other days, perhaps Lucic could handle the honors. Certainly the 6-foot-3 and 235-pound winger can at the very least run a little interference for McDavid for a year or two.
This is not to suggest McDavid could not handle the rigors of being an NHL captain, but the job can become a little daunting over the course of an 82-game season.
The Oilers are to be primed to get back on the winning track so it only seems to make sense that Connor McDavid lead the charge.