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Kelly: It’d be a working holiday for McDavid if he plays in World Juniors

Having accustomed ourselves to the idea that Connor McDavid is the future of Canadian hockey, it's a little jarring to see him here acting as its present.

Not least for the player himself.

A month ago, McDavid broke his right hand in an OHL fight. It was the first real brawl of his career. He was told he would miss four to six weeks.

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On Tuesday, a couple of days short of the minimum recovery time, McDavid had the cast removed.

He practised on Thursday evening at the beginning of the team's evaluation camp, on a contact restriction. Team Canada hopes to involve him in at least one of four planned exhibition games. Whether that happens or not, they don't seem too bothered.

"It would be nice," coach Benoit Groulx shrugged. "The most important thing is to have him for the competition … There's no rush. We're happy to have him here."

For most of these kids, it's a working interview. For McDavid, it's a working holiday.

We've all agreed that Canada is going to have to win this thing sooner or later. After a five-year skid, the country has moved beyond the usual panic into ruminative patience.

"What I've noticed is that people still believe in their team," said Groulx.

Maybe Canada has entered the "England Football" stage of its hockey development – we no longer need to win anything in order to feel absolutely sure we're still the best.

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It would be nice for the breakthrough to happen at home. It's going to happen eventually. It's a hell of a lot more likely to happen with McDavid, the best young player on the planet.

So McDavid, 17, was trotted out beforehand to demonstrate his fitness. He had both hands buried deep in his pants pockets. So deep he may have torn out the lining.

Most people warm into interviews. McDavid cools. By the end of six minutes, he was not speaking in a virtual whisper. It was an actual whisper.

If he spoke publicly for an hour, by the end dogs could not hear what McDavid was saying. His words have only been captured here because of the sensitivity of electronic recording devices.

How excited are you?

"Very excited," McDavid mumbled, not sounding, looking or feeling excited.

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Can he shoot?

"I can take the full slapshots and all that. The hand feels good. The wrist is not too stiff at all."

So it's a little stiff. Well, he's got a while to loosen it up.

McDavid's been skating for three weeks. He says his lower half is feeling fitter and firmer than it did before he was injured.

He bridled only once, when it was suggested that his enforced absence was "time off."

"Well, I wasn't exactly taking it too easy with the cast on," he said, his voice rising to a level where you might be able to hear it if you were sitting in his lap. "I was shooting a little bit with the cast on. Yeah, it was nice to finally get the cast off."

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By the end, he was back down to volumes that can only be perceived by animals that operate via sonar.

In this country, we've obsessed over this kid for ages – since he was granted exceptional status as a 15-year-old OHL draftee. He's become that generational article of faith – the future Greatest Player in the World. Canada can live without a few world junior golds. It cannot abide the idea that the very best might not have been born in a six-digit postal code.

We've spent a lot of that time averting our collective gaze, so as not to spook him.

That ends in Toronto this week.

This is the point at which McDavid fully arrives as a phenomenon. He won't be drafted into the NHL for six more months. But his effective time as a professional begins in Toronto and Montreal right now.

You fear for him, just a little bit. I spent some time with him in Erie last month. One on one, he's marvellous – still very quiet, but sharp and confident. He is the very definition of an old soul.

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But this is where, really for the first time, he becomes public property. From now until his career ends in 10 or 15 or 20 years, McDavid is going to have to do this sort of thing every night.

He'll figure it out. He's that sort of kid. But if he's going to survive it, he's also going to have to find some way to enjoy it.

He can play in the NHL. His work ethic is famously unparalleled. Five minutes spent watching him is proof of that.

But can he be the star that people will want him to be? Can he evolve into the role of a star not just on the ice but off it?

That's next on Connor McDavid's impressive professional to-do list.

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