TORONTO - Wayne Gretzky made his name with the Edmonton Oilers. He expects top prospect Connor McDavid will have a similar impact with the same team.
Gretzky, who led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships in the 1980s and went on to become the NHL's all-time leading scorer, spoke on Wednesday night about McDavid's potential. Edmonton holds the first overall pick in this summer's draft and McDavid is expected to be selected at the top of his class.
"I just think he's a really good young player. I saw Sidney Crosby at 14, got to meet him, got to know him. He's been the best player in the game. This young man McDavid is that calibre," said Gretzky at the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, two blocks from the Hockey Hall of Fame where he's enshrined. "He has the potential to be a Crosby, a Gretzky, a Lemieux.
"Seems like he's a really nice young man, he says all the right things and I think he's really going to enjoy playing and living in Edmonton."
Gretzky was attending a fundraiser for Parachute, a charity devoted to children's safety. He said his family watched the NHL's draft lottery closely on April 18 and that his wife Janet had predicted that the Oilers would jump ahead to win the top pick and, presumably, McDavid.
"My wife told me Edmonton was going to win the pick that day," said Gretzky. "That was the day that I retired 16 years ago. So, she said, for whatever reason, the Oilers have good luck today. Connor McDavid went to Edmonton."
McDavid scored 44 goals and added 76 assists for the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters this season, despite missing five weeks with a broken hand. He was also the top scorer in the OHL's playoffs, with 21 goals and 28 assists in 20 games.
The top prospect is just a piece of Edmonton's rebuild this off-season, however. The Oilers also named former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson their new chief executive officer, made Peter Chiarelli their general manager and hired Todd McLellan as head coach.
Gretzky is impressed with the aggressive moves his former team has made.
"It's a 180-degree turnaround," said Gretzky. "It's a wonderful city and I said when they got McDavid that day that he's going to love playing there, he's going to love the city, the people there are wonderful.
"I still go there and the people there are always courteous. It's a tremendous hockey city, it's a great sports city."
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