Brian McDavid was a bundle of nerves as he watched his teenager in an NHL game for the first time last week. From his seat in Rexall Place, the father of hockey's top prospect watched excitedly as his son streaked down the ice and broke in on the goalie. Sprawled across the net, Arizona's Anders Lindback made a superb save, redirecting the shot with his toe at the last second.
The crowd roared for Connor McDavid anyway, and by the end of the night, Edmonton's new favourite son had registered an assist to go along with a handful of chances in the Oilers' sixth straight preseason victory.
"Sometime in the first or second period, I sent my wife a text," Brian McDavid says. "All it said was, 'He belongs.'"
It's no surprise really, not for a prodigy for whom stardom has been foretold for years. But sometimes, a boy's father wants to be sure. "I wanted to see it with my own eyes before I leaped to any judgment," Brian says. "I feel comfortable now that he can skate and play with these guys."
The next big step of Connor's career occurs when the 18-year-old from the Toronto suburbs lines up at centre in St. Louis for his first regular-season game.
It is a dream he has carried since childhood, and a milestone that will be celebrated by a host of people who have played significant roles in his life.
"I'm just really happy for Connor,' Brian McDavid says. "It's what we all want as parents: We want our kids to be happy, fulfilled and to be living their dreams.
"To see him get to this level is unbelievably rewarding."
Brian and Connor's mother, Kelly, planned to travel to Missouri on Wednesday from their home in Newmarket, Ont., to attend the game. A larger family contingent, including his brother, Cameron, and aunts and uncles, will be in Edmonton for the home opener on Oct. 15. The last time Kelly saw Connor was Labour Day, before he headed to Edmonton for his first NHL training camp.
"I just can't wait," Kelly says. "This is the longest I have ever gone without seeing him. I'm happy for him, but as a mother, I am a little concerned about how he is going to handle the pressure.
"If the Oilers don't win, I am afraid he is going to feel like he is letting people down."
The first overall pick in this summer's NHL draft, McDavid has shouldered a heavy load for years. After receiving permission to enter the Ontario Hockey League at age 15, he was drafted by the Erie Otters.
The league's worst team, the Otters won only 10 of 68 games the season before he joined them. Over the next three years, they won 19, 52 and 50 games.
"For a kid who didn't like to lose, the first half of his first season was really hard for him," Kelly says.
Upon arriving in Erie, Pa., McDavid moved in with Bob and Stephanie Catalde and their three kids. A lawyer and youth-hockey coach, Bob planned to drive 10 hours to St. Louis to take in Thursday night's contest with his 11-year-old son, Nico. A last-minute scheduling conflict scuttled those plans, and now they will watch from home on TV.
"I've been asked by friends to join them at a bar, but I don't want to dilute the experience by drinking beer and analyzing every move Connor makes," Catalde says. "I am going to enjoy it with my family. I am letting my son stay up late. It has been and continues to be an unbelievable experience."
Nico was crestfallen when McDavid moved out at the end of his OHL career. The NHL's most talked about rookie spent hours with the youngster playing video games. Catalde says he was nearly as broken up as his son. He remains in contact with the McDavid family.
"It was very difficult when Connor left," he says. "It's the closest I can ever imagine becoming to someone else's child."
A Sabres fan, Catalde was hoping McDavid would end up in Buffalo, only about two hours away.
"I am jealous for people in Edmonton," he says. "Every time the puck goes on his stick, anticipation is going to rise and he is not going to let them down.
"They won't even fully appreciate the things he does until a few months from now."
Back home in Southern Ontario, Joe Quinn will be watching, too. He has taught Connor how to handle the puck in close quarters for eight years.
"When I met him, he was 10 going on 11," Quinn says. "I still remember him as a skinny, freckle-faced little boy. It is like watching my own son grow up."
In his first taste of the NHL, McDavid had a solid preseason. Playing with a handful of linemates, he collected five assists in as many games.
"I think he has been one of our best players," says Peter Chiarelli, the Oilers' general manager. "He still has things to learn, but he makes plays and is fun to watch.
"For an 18-year-old, that's pretty good."
Chiarelli said this week that it would not be an unrealistic to expect McDavid to accrue 60 points in his rookie season. At times, including the night his father watched him play against the Coyotes, he has been dominating.
"He has dangerous speed," says Todd McLellan, the Edmonton coach. "I don't know how anybody can score when they are skating that fast."
When Connor skates onto the ice against the St. Louis Blues, a flood of memories will wash over his dad. When Connor was five years old, he clamoured to shoot pucks in the garage with his brother, who is four years older.
"He'd stand and stare and insist he be allowed to play," Brian says. "He wanted to be a part of it, so he was. We'd all be in there together, and it was fun, just a dad playing hockey with his boys."
Now, it's more than that. It's the next step in Connor's hockey career. Few doubt that he belongs.