NEWARK, N.J. -- After the Edmonton Oilers selected Connor McDavid with the first-overall pick in June, another former top pick came to the team's aid with an idea that would make the rookie's transition to the NHL a bit smoother.
Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, volunteered to host McDavid as a roommate. After all, Hall knows exactly what it's like to be an 18-year-old coming to Edmonton out of junior hockey as the league's top draft pick.
The Oilers already had billet families in place for McDavid, but he wanted to be treated like everyone else on the team, so he agreed to live with Hall.
"It's been fun. He's a great kid," Hall said. "He's been raised very well and he handles the pressure very well. I'm only 24, but when you take someone in, it kind of forces you to want to be a role model for the guy, and it's been fun so far."
When Hall broke into the league, he lived with teammate Jordan Eberle. Hall wanted to share that experience with McDavid for many reasons.
"You're a No. 1 pick in a Canadian city and you learn how to adjust to the lifestyle and adjust to the pressures, and I think that's why it's been good with Connor and I," Hall said. "I've been able to teach him a couple of things. Coming to a new city, there's a lot of adjusting to do with bills to pay, apartments to take care of and that kind of thing, so it's been a lot easier for him moving in and not having to worry about any of that stuff."
Oilers coach Todd McLellan described McDavid's living arrangements as essential for the rookie's continued development on and off the ice. The roommates don't sit around and play video games all day, as Hall explained. Instead, they stick to cards, cooking and movies.
"It's been great," McDavid said. "We were living with Luke [Gazdic] as well, and the three of us were pretty close and always having a good time in the house. It's been great living with both those guys."
It's also a chance to forget about hockey for a while.
"When we're there, we're not talking about hockey at all," McDavid said. "We're just being normal guys and it's good to get away from hockey a little bit and, being around those two, we do a pretty good job of that, distracting ourselves from whatever is going on at the rink."
His talent is evident, but the organization has also been impressed with the way McDavid has managed his life and career. Despite missing 37 games with a broken collarbone he suffered on Nov. 3, he has bounced back since returning to the lineup Feb. 2.
"He's obviously a special player," Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "Prior to the injury, every game he was getting better. Every practice he was getting better. We see his speed, his skill and his skating, but probably his biggest asset is his thinking and you can see him absorbing the game.
"He had a real strong start coming back from the injury. He's been a little less dynamic but still very good the last couple of games. He's a real incredible talent."
Chiarelli was extremely impressed when McDavid suggested the organization send him to their AHL affiliate for a conditioning stint while he was rehabbing. The AHL is the last place most top young players want to be, but his brief stint with the Bakersfield Condors proved to be well worth the trip, both on and off the ice.
The now 19-year-old (his birthday was Jan. 13) forward showcases his size and speed on a regular basis. His two-way game is improving, and his hockey sense is off the charts.
"He's a dynamic talent who makes plays at a rate of speed that most can only dream of," one Eastern Conference executive said.
Too many times, McLellan has witnessed players with all the talent in the world, but when it's game time, some of those same players struggle.
"Connor has the mind to match the skill set," McLellan said. "He has a brilliant mind to go along with his brilliant skill set. Now, with that being said, over the last couple of games we've witnessed the fact that one man, especially a 19-year-old young man, can't carry a team, and the group can't stand back and just wait for him to do it."
Without McDavid in the lineup, the Oilers scored the second-fewest goals per game (2.2) in the league. That number improves with him on the ice to 2.8 per game.
"He's still developing physically and there are shifts that are taxing on him, and yet, he can still wow the fans every now and then," McLellan said. "Connor's return affected us a couple of ways: It really gave us a boost and it's hurt us a little bit because we've had the tendency to stand back and watch him. It's time we blended it all together and play as a team."
While he sat in the visitors' locker room at Prudential Center recently, McDavid discussed his rookie season. He mentioned that he keeps tabs on fellow rookies, including the Calgary Flames' Sam Bennett and Arizona Coyotes' Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.
They don't dislike each other, but both don't like to discuss the other. In fact, McDavid doesn't believe there's a rivalry between the two.
"No," he said. "I try not to put it that way. Obviously, he's having a good year and he should be happy about that. I mean, I wouldn't text him or anything like that. I think we'll have to become a little bit closer, I guess, if we're both on [Team North America in the World Cup] or something like that. I don't look at him as an enemy or a rival or anything like that. He's a fellow young guy in the league."
Hall said that the hype is all media driven.
"I don't think it's something Connor thinks about every night before he goes to bed," Hall said. "He's a competitive guy and I'm sure he wants to do well, but it's not to beat Jack Eichel. It's to do well for his team and for himself."