The question hits Kurtis MacDermid when people realize he played for the Erie Otters.
“Quite often,” MacDermid said. “After I say I played in Erie, they ask if I played with him.”
“Him” would be Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers star regarded as the most skilled player in the game, if not the best. MacDermid played two seasons with McDavid in the Ontario Hockey League.
“Being a part of that experience, a player like that is a generational talent, it’s awesome because he’s such a great guy and a great teammate,” MacDermid said. “It’s something special, for sure.”
MacDermid’s road to the NHL is the anti-McDavid story, but it’s also special. Considered a raw, long-term project as an undrafted free-agent signing, MacDermid has earned a defenseman job with the Kings.
“One of the best development stories ever,” Kings assistant general manager Mike Futa said.
MacDermid had an awkward growth spurt as a teenager on his way to his 6-foot-5, 233-pound body. It looked good on paper but it didn’t translate to the rink, outside of tough-guy duties. The Kings signed him in 2013 and he was among the OHL and American Hockey League leaders in penalty minutes.
“If it was the mid-‘70s Philadelphia Flyers, he’d be making millions of dollars,” Futa said. “It was a game of beasts. He’s really seen the way the game’s changed. He’s had to adjust in every aspect of the way the game has changed, and he’s still finding ways to play in the National Hockey League.”
MacDermid played rigid and tense as a younger player. But he was willing to learn the nuances of his position. Former Kings defenseman Sean O’Donnell took MacDermid aside this summer and taught him to think the game differently.
“With big guys, and with guys that are physically intimidating and want to use that intimidation as an asset, sometimes running to pay a guy back or make sure that you hit him as hard as possible isn’t the clearest way to think,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell showed MacDermid stick position and how to take an angle on a play, among other aspects. One characteristic stood out.
“He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” O’Donnell said.
MacDermid arrived at Kings camp in September intending to get a job. When Alec Martinez was injured to start the season, MacDermid stayed with the Kings, over fellow defenseman prospect Kevin Gravel.
Coach John Stevens has trusted MacDermid in various situations, including the second unit power-play unit. One of the warm moments of the season was MacDermid’s smile upon his first NHL goal Oct.26 at Montreal. Stevens also mixes up his defense pairs, so there are instances when MacDermid plays with Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty. Not bad for a kid formerly known as McDavid’s teammate.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” MacDermid said. “I’m very honored to be here. It’s just taking it day by day and coming in and working hard as possible and getting better every day. That’s been my motto for a long time now, and I’m going to keep doing that.”
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke