Connor McDavid missed his high school graduation on Wednesday night. The 18-year-old was at a baseball game in Miami, where the Marlins invited him to throw out the first pitch. A few hours earlier, he took some cuts during batting practice, gripping a Louisville Slugger from the wrong end as a joke at first, then struggling to get the ball out of the infield with the exception of one pitch that he shanked down the left-field line.
The past few weeks have been busy for hockey's next big thing. From one day to the next, he see-saws between mundane moments of teenaged life and extraordinary events kids his age could only dream about. It is the odd circumstance that surround the most anticipated player since Sidney Crosby, a kid with otherworldly talents facing unprecedented expectations from a league and a city and the team that will choose him.
He has been in perpetual motion since attending his prom on May 28, dashing off to personal appearances, attending the NHL combine, collecting trophies like so many goals and assists, rubbing elbows with Sid and Wayne Gretzky, walking the red carpet in a pale blue suit on Sunday night at the Much Music Video Awards.
Along with being squired around the Everglades in an airboat and having dinner with Bobby Orr, the most exciting prospect the sport has seen in a decade at least skated on Thursday, with dozens of youngsters at the Florida Panthers' practice rink outside Fort Lauderdale.
For more than an hour, Mr. McDavid carefully passed pucks to preteens, posing for photos any time a parent with a camera stepped up to the glass, then signed autographs for a half-hour until every request was exhausted.
"It has been a whirlwind couple of months, but being busy has helped the days go by," the phenom said afterward, surrounded by a crush of reporters in the Panthers' dressing room. Roberto Luongo's gear was stacked in the stall beside him. "As long as I can remember, playing in the NHL is all I wanted to do. I have worked hard my whole life to get to this point."
On Friday night, Mr. McDavid will take the next step in a process that began in the suburbs of Toronto when he was barely old enough to walk. It is no secret the Edmonton Oilers will choose him with the first selection in the draft, a pick they filched from other hopeful losers in a lottery on April 18.
It has been 25 years since the team hoisted the Stanley Cup and it is not about to let a prodigy with his pedigree get away. The Oilers recently flew him and his parents to Edmonton for six hours for a heart-to-heart, taking him into the dressing room at Rexall Place and for a tour of the $480-million (U.S.) arena that's expected to be ready when the puck drops in 2016-17.
"What has happened in the last few months is hard to put into words," his mother, Kelly, said Saturday night at the Erie Otters' end-of-season banquet. At the dinner, Mr. McDavid sat between his mother and Stephanie Catalde, his billet mother in Pennsylvania for the past three years. "It has been a stressful, emotional and exciting experience. I am a little worried because he is going to be so far away. The thought of that leaves my stomach upset. As a mother, it is going to be hard."
More than 300 people turned out on Saturday to bid adieu to Mr. McDavid. The team sold out the soirée at the arena he graced while helping drag the Otters out of the Ontario Hockey League basement. He was a shy, skinny 15-year-old when he arrived; now, he is a blur on blades, 6 foot 1 and 195 pounds, and touted as the next Great One.
"He has been preparing for this for a long time," said his father, Brian, who coached him throughout his youth. "Right now, to me, it simply seems like the next step in his progression, but I am sure on Friday night when they call his name it will be very different.
"I will think about all of those 6 a.m. ice times I took him to when he was younger, and all of the sacrifices that have been made."
In his final year in Erie, McDavid the younger amassed 120 points and ended up third in the OHL in scoring despite missing nearly one-third of the season after suffering a broken hand in a fight. He accumulated another 49 points in 20 playoff games and was chosen the league's postseason MVP even though his team lost in the final.
He was mobbed after the banquet, as he is everywhere he goes these days.
"I am told Wayne Gretzky is a heck of a person," said Sherry Bassin, the Otters' 75-year-old general manager, calling Mr. McDavid to the stage. "He is no better than the one they are going to get. I have been around hockey a long time and feel blessed to have spent three years with him. I will love this kid until my dying breath."
After coaching the budding superstar for 2 1/2 seasons in Erie, Kris Knoblauch developed more than a little appreciation.
"At times, when you are watching him, you realize you have become a fan and not a coach," Mr. Knoblauch said. "He does some remarkable things, but it is never like he feels different from anyone else. He is almost embarrassed when he pulls something off. That's what makes him unique."
Last week, Mr. McDavid spent three days writing final exams in English, history and social justice for Sir William Mulock Secondary School in Newmarket, Ont. On Wednesday, he lived a dream by standing in the batter's box at Marlins Park. And in his next-to-last day as an amateur, he donned his Otters jersey for the last time and joined other top prospects in skating with 100 or so kids in a rink not far from the arena in Sunrise, where the draft will be held.
"It has been a crazy few weeks, but I am not looking forward to it being over," McDavid said. "I don't want to rush through this. It is something I am only going to get to go through once."