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Connor McDavid and his mother Kelly are photographed at their home in Newmarket, Ontario on Friday August 21, 2015. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)
Connor McDavid and his mother Kelly are photographed at their home in Newmarket, Ontario on Friday August 21, 2015. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)

Connor McDavid’s mom wants him to ‘smell the roses’ during MVP-calibre season Add to ...

Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers’ young captain, has spent the season leading the NHL scoring race, and guiding his team to the playoffs for the first time in nearly 11 years.

Across the country, Kelly McDavid has watched her youngest son come of age in public, always cheering, sometimes worrying, never not being a mother.

“Him getting an injury is always a worry, but my big concern is that he is happy,” Kelly McDavid says. “As a mom, that is what I want more than anything else. My hope is that he stays healthy, and I don’t want him so focused on playing.

“I want him to take time to smell the roses.”

Less than two years out of high school, the 20-year-old has made a strong case to be named hockey’s most valuable player. With a week left in the regular season, he is closing in on 100 points and has 18 over his last 10 games as the Oilers push to overtake the Anaheim Ducks at the top of the Pacific Division standings. At the start of the season, he became the youngest captain in league history.

“One difference I notice about him from last year to now is his confidence,” Kelly McDavid says. “I have always said he is an old soul trapped in a young body. He used to always want to be older.

“I would have to tell him, ‘Connor you are only four once’, and he’d say, ‘But I want to be five.’”

He’s wanted to be a hockey player, and a captain, since he was a kid back home in Southern Ontario. That he would be a star was preordained. Bobby Orr discovered him at a tryout camp when Connor was 13, and he entered the Ontario Hockey League a year early at 15.

He has exceeded impossibly-high expectations and lifted a team and a city. Thousands of fans wear his jersey at each home game. At least three songs have been written about him, the most recent released last week by a local rapper named Cadence Weapon.

“Watching him start his career so publicly hasn’t really been that hard because he has been in the spotlight a long time now,” Kelly says. “Friends ask, ‘How do you stand it?’ but it has just become a normal part of our lives.

“I watched Sidney Crosby go through a difficult time a few years ago, and I worry. It’s a long career and you don’t know what is going to happen.”

Touted as the sport’s greatest young star since Crosby arrived in Pittsburgh a dozen years ago, McDavid sat out half of his first season with a broken clavicle. He has now played 123 games and has never gone three straight without a point. He has 28 multiple-point games this season, three more than Crosby or Chicago’s Patrick Kane, both chasing him in the points race.

If life has taken off for Connor, it hasn’t changed too drastically for his mother or father, Brian. Both still work full-time, she as a human resources manager, he as a consultant.

They still live in the same home in Newmarket, a suburb about 45 minutes from Toronto. At times, young boys ring their doorbell hoping that Connor is home. Fans knock on the door in search of a souvenir.

“People approach us all the time wanting stuff autographed,” Kelly says. “It is like they think we have an inventory of things laying around.

“I tell them that if they want us to get something signed, we can give it to Connor in the summer, but that’s kind of tough. He gets bombarded. We really want him to relax when he comes home.”

In Edmonton to visit Connor last week, Kelly and Brian were recognized by fans. They stayed with him at his condo on the city’s north side. Residents of the building know he lives there, and occasionally leave bags of items for him to sign at his door.

“He signs things and then puts the bag back outside,” Kelly says. “Things miraculously appear and disappear.”

On Thursday night last week, Connor had an assist and a short-handed goal on a breakaway as the Oilers topped the San Jose Sharks. On Saturday, he played a role in all three of his team’s goals in a come-from-behind overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Fans started chanting “MVP” during that game, which ended with McDavid setting up the winning goal by his linemate Leon Draisaitl with a perfect pass. Together, McDavid and Draisaitl, who is 21, are the NHL’s top scoring tandem with 168 points.

“I am so proud of Connor,” his mother says. “He puts the team first, but he achieves his goals, too.”

Fans expressed concern when the Oilers appointed McDavid their captain in October. He was 19 years and 266 days old, 20 days younger than the NHL’s previous youngest captain, Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog.

That was one time that Kelly didn’t fret.

“He was born to be a captain,” she says. “When they gave that to him, he took the role very seriously. He really cares. He has a huge heart.”

When she is back home in Southern Ontario, she keeps in contact with Connor by text message, at least once every other day. She doesn’t ask him about hockey.

“I ask how he is doing,” she says. “I like it when he tells me has done something fun with the guys. I don’t care what’s going on at the rink. I want him to enjoy his life.”

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