Scott Niedermayer returned to New Jersey last Feb. 9 to honour former teammate Martin Brodeur, the NHL's all-time winningest goalie, with whom he won three Stanley Cups.
After Brodeur's No. 30 jersey was raised to the rafters at the Prudential Center, Niedermayer got his first in-person look at Connor McDavid, the 19-year-old Edmonton Oilers centre who is talked about in the same breath as Sidney Crosby and one day, many believe, will join NHL greats Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Niedermayer in the Hall of Fame.
"The thing that has stood out for me is his speed," Niedermayer, a former Anaheim Ducks player and assistant coach who now mentors young players in the organization, told CBC Sports over the phone recently.
"If there weren't other players around him, you may not realize how fast he's going because the way he skates and his stride doesn't make him look like he's the fastest guy on the ice."
In his fifth game back after breaking his left collarbone, McDavid recorded an assist and two shots in a 2-1 Devils win on that February night.
"He's a great player and it's hard to say if he's going to be like [Gretzky and Lemieux] but right now he's on the right path," said Dylan Strome, McDavid's former junior linemate with the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters.
McDavid played his 82nd NHL game on Thursday but didn't record a point in a 3-1 Oilers win over the Los Angeles Kings. The 2015 first overall draft pick has 29 goals and 90 points over parts of two seasons for a 1.10 points-per-game average.
Here's how he compares to some of the all-time great players:
First 82 games
- Wayne Gretzky: 142 points, 1.73 PPG
- Mario Lemieux: 115 points, 1.40 PPG
- Sidney Crosby: 104 points, 1.27 PPG
- Eric Lindros: 103 points, 1.26 PPG
- Ron Francis: 98 points, 1.20 PPG
- Steve Yzerman: 91 points, 1.11
- Connor McDavid: 90 points, 1.10
- Joe Sakic: 76 points, 0.93 PPG
- Jaromir Jagr: 60 points, 0.73 PPG
How good has McDavid been in his brief NHL career?
- Gretzky, the all-time NHL points leader with 2,857, says McDavid is "the best 19-year-old he's seen … I'm truly amazed at how good he is."
- McDavid has 13 multi-point games this season, tied with Crosby for first in the NHL.
- He is the first teenager to be the first player to reach 30 points in a season in league history, achieving the feat in his 24th game on Nov. 29 against Toronto.
- In parts of two seasons, he hasn't gone more than two games without a point.
- After returning from injury last season, McDavid put up 48 points in 45 games for a fourth-place finish in the NHL rookie scoring race.
Connor McDavid: 5th player since 1987-88 to record 10 or more 3-point games as a teenager. His 10 tie Patrick Kane (Most: 26- Sidney Crosby)— @StatsCentre
In Niedermayer's 1992-93 rookie campaign, he played 12 regular-season and playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were led by league scoring champion Lemieux.
Trying to contain the six-foot-four, 230-pound centre with a long reach was a daunting task for the then 19-year-old Niedermayer, who went on to play 1,263 regular-season games and won the Norris Trophy in 2004 as the NHL's best defenceman.
"I just remember being amazed what a guy like Lemieux could do with the puck. I had never seen anything like it before," Niedermayer said.
In a first-round playoff series, Niedermayer remembered New Jersey head coach Herb Brooks assigning a player to shadow Lemieux with Pittsburgh on a 5-on-4 power play.
"I can't remember if they scored or not," said Niedermayer. "I think teams went to all sorts of lengths to try to slow him down."
The same could be said for McDavid, who entered the Christmas break atop the NHL scoring race and now shares the lead with Crosby with 42 points on 13 goals and 29 assists.
Niedermayer said McDavid reminds him of Crosby when it comes to commitment to the defensive part of the game and work ethic, noting both are strong skaters with the ability to score goals and make plays at high speed.
"You listen to him talk, how he carries himself, talking about his teammates, I really respect that, especially from a young player," said Niedermayer of McDavid, who ranked second only to Gretzky (15) in three-point games through his first 70 NHL games with 10.
"He comes to work and that's probably why he's having this success at a young age. His maturity and talent is beyond his years."
Top Oilers through 70 games
- Wayne Gretzky: 41 goals, 115 points, five game-winning goals
- Connor McDavid: 27 goals, 82 points, eight game winners
- Jari Kurri: 28 goals, 65 points, two game winners
- Mark Messier: 12 goals, 31 points, one game winner
Buffalo Sabres defenceman Cody Franson found himself sharing the ice against the six-foot-one, 195-pound McDavid in the team's second game this season, a 6-2 victory at Edmonton on Oct. 16, even though it wasn't his assignment for the night.
"If you get caught slow-footed or you're not keeping pace as he gets close to you, he'll be able to roast you," Franson said. "He definitely makes you play an honest game. You can't cheat with him.
"You have to give him the same respect as you do Crosby because he can do the same types of things. Crosby is a little older, a little stronger but McDavid will grow into that. He's got every tool in the toolbox."
Jamie Oleksiak, a six-foot-seven, 250-pound stay-at-home defenceman with the Dallas Stars, recalled making eye contact with McDavid in a November game as the latter picked up the puck along the boards and skated up ice.
"He was probably thinking, 'Here's a big, slow defenceman I can just dance around' but luckily I was able to get my stick on him," said Oleksiak. "My eyes kind of went like a deer in headlights but I was able to make sure … I wasn't on one of the highlight shows.
"You just see how relentless [McDavid] is on pucks. … He works hard and he's confident in making plays. He's a special player."