Wayne Gretzky praises Connor McDavid ahead of World Cup
Great One believes U-23 players will gain invaluable experience
The Great One says he will have his eye on the Next One at this fall's World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
Wayne Gretzky is excited about the prospects for the tournament but admits it will be strange to see young players such as Connor McDavid play for a teams other than Canada and the U.S.
Gretzky said while he understands that some people are not happy with the so-called Young Guns concept that will see North American stars under 23 years old play on one team he believes there could be benefits down the road.
"Connor McDavid's probably never not played for Canada," said Gretzky. "But I think it [the format] gives them experience . . . and when they are ready to take over the mantle and compete in the Olympic Games and things like that the experience they get from a tournament like this is going to be invaluable."
Just the same, Gretzky said he may have seen things a little differently had he been told as a young player that he couldn't play for his country.
"I would have fought it," he said. "Yeah, I would have said I'm going to play for Canada and it's as simple as that."
Still, the NHL's all-time leading scorer admitted that it's a different era and the World Cup concept isn't being set up to be controversial.
While he understands it's a controversial move to some, he believes the NHL is simply trying to grow the game in new and exciting ways.
As for McDavid, Gretzky said that despite missing significant time through injury it's clear the rookie phenom is a great player in the making and is somebody the Edmonton Oilers can build around.
"He's a really good player — he's fun to watch and he handles himself extremely well," he said.
The Hall of Famer was also asked whether he is concerned that none of Canada's NHL teams appear as if they will make the playoffs.
The four-time Stanley Cup champion was adamant that it wasn't a concern for him given the composition of the league and its teams.
"It's just a cycle right now," Gretzky said pointing to the number of Canadians who will feature on U.S.-based teams. "You know Canadian teams are going to come back at some point."
Gretzky made the comments during a short promotional appearance at the World Pond Hockey Championship in Plaster Rock, N.B.
The Great One wowed a crowd of star-struck parents and kids as he stood beside the giant Budweiser goal light which is currently touring the country.