Connor McDavid is on his way to the Ontario Hockey League at the tender age of 15. But where will he play?
No sooner had McDavid been granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada on Wednesday than speculation began about his willingness to join the Erie Otters, the team holding the No. 1 pick for the April 7 OHL draft.
McDavid and his parents recently travelled to Erie, Pa., and met with general manager Sherry Bassin and other members of the Otters organization. However they remained non-committal about whether their son would be willing to move nearly 400 kilometres away from their home in Newmarket, Ont.
"We have to still talk to the Erie organization," Kelly McDavid, Connor's mother, said Wednesday on a conference call. "I don't think we can make a decision until that happens."
Added Brian McDavid, the player's father: "We don't know for sure where Connor's going to be drafted. I think there's lots of speculation on that. Once that day comes, we'll move forward at that point."
A message left with Bassin was not immediately returned.
McDavid is without question the jewel of the upcoming OHL draft, both because of his immense talent and the fact he isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2015. The teenager is just the third player to be granted exceptional status over the last decade, following defenceman Aaron Ekblad last season and centre John Tavares in 2005.
The main reason Hockey Canada was given control of the exceptional status process a couple years ago was to make sure a player's best interest were taken to heart.
Phillip McKee, the executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation, said the review panel was "comfortable" that McDavid would find himself in a position to succeed no matter what OHL team he ended up with.
In applying for exceptional status, McDavid and his parents handed in paperwork to the OHF ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline, setting in motion an extensive review that included everything from interviews and psychological examinations to the submission of reports from teachers, hockey coaches and scouts.
The young centre even had to write an essay detailing what traits made him a good player.
"Unanimously, the committee supported Connor in moving forward in major junior hockey," said McKee. "[They felt] it would impair him to stay back. It's a great opportunity for him to develop his personal skills as well as his hockey playing skills."
There is no doubting his skills.
McDavid was recently mentioned by Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada after being named the Greater Toronto Hockey League's player of the year. He scored 72 points (33 goals, 39 assists) in 33 games this season.
He was also named MVP of the OHL Cup Showcase Tournament.
"We had a terrific season this year," said McDavid.
Otters 'a great organization'
He's looking forward to taking another step forward next season, when he'll be playing against players as old as 20. The five-foot-11, 170-pound forward says he hasn't ruled out Erie as a possible destination.
"It's a great organization," he said. "I'm just looking forward to the OHL draft and we'll move on from there."
The idea of allowing 15 year olds to play major junior hockey remains controversial in some circles, although players such as Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester and Tavares all moved on to the NHL after being given that opportunity.
Ekblad's first season with the Barrie Colts was considered a success both on and off the ice. One scout credited coach Dale Hawerchuk for putting him in a position to succeed and Ekblad responded with 29 points in 63 games.
An extra complication in McDavid's case with the Otters is the uncertainty around the organization. There had been rumours it could be on the move to Hamilton, although those may have been squashed earlier this week when Bassin agreed in principle on a two-year lease extension for Tullio Arena in Erie.
That was of little concern to McDavid on Wednesday.
The news he was being welcomed to the OHL came while he and his family were vacationing in Montreal. He noted that it had become a trending topic on Twitter and expressed excitement about what lies ahead.
"It was a pretty long process," said McDavid. "I'm tremendously excited for the draft and for next season. My season ended on Sunday but the [next] season could start tomorrow and I'd be thrilled."