TORONTO (REUTERS) - Ice-hockey's latest star Connor McDavid will be carrying the highest expectations of any player in recent memory when he begins his NHL career this week with hopes of restoring the long-suffering Edmonton Oilers franchise's glory days.
The 18-year-old Canadian, a so-called 'can't-miss' prospect who was the prize of a weighted lottery to determine which team picked first in June's NHL Draft, has been viewed as a potential star for years while dominating junior hockey.
Given his hockey sense, skating wizardry, deft passing and vision for the game's finer offensive points, McDavid is already being compared to some of the game's greatest players and has had the Alberta capital buzzing since he was drafted.
Even Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, who was part of the Oilers dynasty that won four Stanley Cups in a remarkable five-year span during the 1980s, has gushed about McDavid.
"He's as good as I've seen in the last 30 years, the best player to come into the league in the last 30 years, the best to come along since (Mario) Lemieux and (Sidney) Crosby," Gretzky told the Edmonton Journal.
"He can definitely change a franchise's fortunes."
So after missing the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons despite owning the first pick in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 NHL Drafts, the Oilers finally seem poised for a revival.
McDavid, who racked up a staggering 120 points in 47 games while playing junior ice hockey for the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters last season, is a craftsman with the puck.
Such is the enthusiasm surrounding McDavid that thousands of success-starved Edmonton fans showed up to watch him perform a few on-ice drills during an Oilers orientation camp in July, more than three months before the start of the regular season.
McDavid will play his first three regular season games on the road, starting Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, before making his home debut on Oct 15, again versus St. Louis.
Considered the NHL's most marketable prospect since Crosby was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2005, McDavid will have plenty to achieve to live up to those expectations.
Crosby has led the NHL in scoring twice, including in his rookie year, won a Stanley Cup in his fourth season, was named the league's Most Valuable Player twice and has won ice hockey gold medals with Canada at the last two Olympics.
McDavid made his much-anticipated pre-season debut last month where he picked up two assists and was named the game's first star in a 4-2 Edmonton victory.
"I've dreamed about this kind of environment for a while," McDavid said after the game. "It was fun to play in front of a crowd like this and to play against top players. I think I did pretty good. Hopefully it will just get better and better."