February 26, 2016 12:21 pm

‘He’s a really good player’: Gretzky praises World Cup, Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid makes his way to a press conference after fitness testing during the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, September 10, 2015.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
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PLASTER ROCK, N.B. — The Great One says he will have his eye on the Next One at this fall’s World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

READ MORE: Oilers rookie phenom Connor McDavid makes lasting impression on Edmonton

Wayne Gretzky is excited about the prospects for the tournament but admits it will be strange to see young players such as Connor McDavid play for a teams other than Canada and the U.S.

Gretzky said while he understands that some people are not happy with the so-called Young Guns concept that will see North American stars under 23 years old play on one team, he believes there could be benefits down the road.

“Connor McDavid’s probably never not played for Canada,” said Gretzky. “But I think it (the format) gives them experience . . . and when they are ready to take over the mantle and compete in the Olympic Games and things like that the experience they get from a tournament like this is going to be invaluable.”

WATCH: Stephen Harper asks what advice Wayne Gretzky would give Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid


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Just the same, Gretzky said he may have seen things a little differently had he been told as a young player that he couldn’t play for his country.

“I would have fought it,” he said. “Yeah, I would have said I’m going to play for Canada and it’s as simple as that.”

Still, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer admitted that it’s a different era and the World Cup concept isn’t being set up to be controversial.

While he understands it’s a controversial move to some, he believes the NHL is simply trying to grow the game in new and exciting ways.

WATCH: While in the Edmonton to support his son and his hockey camp, Wayne Gretzky stopped to talk to the media. He weighed in on Connor McDavid and Dustin Johnson’s golf career.

As for McDavid, Gretzky said that despite missing significant time through injury, it’s clear the rookie phenom is a great player in the making, and is somebody the Edmonton Oilers can build around.

“He’s a really good player — he’s fun to watch and he handles himself extremely well,” he said.

The Hall of Famer was also asked whether he is concerned that none of Canada’s NHL teams appear as if they will make the playoffs.

The four-time Stanley Cup champion was adamant that it wasn’t a concern for him given the composition of the league and its teams.

“It’s just a cycle right now,” Gretzky said pointing to the number of Canadians who will feature on U.S.-based teams. “You know Canadian teams are going to come back at some point.”

Gretzky made the comments during a short promotional appearance at the World Pond Hockey Championship in Plaster Rock, N.B.

The Great One wowed a crowd of star-struck parents and kids as he stood beside the giant Budweiser goal light which is currently touring the country.

WATCH:  It’s been fifteen years since the “Great One” left the game of he loves — hockey. No longer a player, Wayne Gretzky is still a popular force, particularly with one B.C. man who’s created a shrine for his hockey hero. Robin Gill reports.

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