Connor McDavid, and the pressure of being “The Next One”

Justin Bourne

Not many of us can relate to the pressure Connor McDavid is going through. Actually, unless Sidney Crosby is reading this, none of us can. He’s only 17, yet he’s been hockey’s “next one” for years. He’s draft eligible in 2015, and NHL teams are legitimately considering burning next season entirely for the chance to draft him. We’ve all seen what Crosby – that’s you, reader Sid – did for the Penguins organization. It might be worth it.

But not everyone is equipped to handle the pressure – hell, I know I wouldn’t have been at that age. With great power comes great responsibility, and being awesome at hockey super young doesn’t necessarily mean you’re mentally built to deal with the latter part of that.

Yesterday Connor McDavid did an interview with Rob Pizzo (the world’s greatest hockey host, of course…oh, and also my old podcast cohost) and Craig Simpson, and he said something fairly innocuous, but the honesty of it all shook me a bit. He is nervous about the expectations on him, he is aware of what people think he should become…because hey: he still is a young teenager. He’s being half-shoved into a spotlight brighter than most of us could calmly handle, and he doesn’t have the type of ego some young prodigies have that renders pressure a non-factor. (You can listen to the full interview here.)

Below is McDavid’s smart, candid response about playing yet another season of junior as the limelight grows brighter. His composure and honesty are really refreshing.

Craig Simpson:

I don’t know how much you’re aware of what John Tavares went through with an extra year of scrutiny, y’know the scouts already have you slotted in a place as you know…as it gets closer to draft year and draft day, it tends to pick you apart a little bit. Is that something that your parents and your agent have really made you aware of or did you notice with Tavares, how he had to handle it during that similar situation?

(I know Craig Simpson, one of my favorites in the business, is just trying to ask a good question, but the implication that the pressure “starts to pick you apart a little bit” kinda feels like one of those “Don’t think about the color red” seeds that someone plants knowing it becomes unavoidable. Anyway. On to McDavid.)

Connor McDavid:

Yeah, for sure, I mean my parents and my agent, that was one of the things we talked about, that was my first thing was, do I really wanna have the extra year of scrutiny and, at the end of the day I just thought it was the right thing to do. But I guess coming into the year, I am a little bit worried about that…I mean, there have been some really great things said about me these past few years, but y’know, the third year…what can I do to keep impressing? And that’s what worries me a little bit. Maybe…some people get bored of me and start to say I’m not as good as everyone says, and that is a big worry of mine. But like everyone keeps saying, you just gotta block it out and keep playing the game, because at the end of the day the only person that has to be happy with myself is myself…so…

And by then, his point is made. Yes he’s worried about his draft year in junior. When you’re penned in as No. 1 overall in your draft year three years ago, all you can do is disappoint people. What an odd situation to be in.

It’s not that it’s not an enviable situation, I just think it’s worth remembering: Connor McDavid is so young, and already finds himself in a situation where being less than the best means being a disappointment. It’s a gift, and it’s a curse.

If he’s going to be the best, he’s going to have to deal with pressure, but man – what mistakes did you make at 17? I can’t imagine having to be so buttoned up, so “on,” so young. His future is bright, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary.