TORONTO — Star forward Connor McDavid’s cast is off, he has clearance for non-contact drills and is confident he’ll be ready to play in the upcoming world junior hockey championship.
Now it’s just a matter of seeing how things go at the Canadian team’s pre-tournament camp.
McDavid hasn’t played in a game since breaking a bone in his right hand on Nov. 12. The Erie Otters forward has been skating regularly but his cast wasn’t removed until this week.
The junior phenom will be examined by doctors on a regular basis and the team says they’re taking things day by day. But the goal is to get McDavid into at least one exhibition game before the tournament opener on Dec. 26.
"I can take full slapshots and all that, so the hand feels good," McDavid said Thursday afternoon at a downtown hotel. "The wrist is not too stiff at all. So it should be all good."
Thirty players have been invited to camp and 22 players will make the final team.
The 17-year-old McDavid, who has 51 points in 18 games this season, is an early favourite to be selected first overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. His presence would provide a big boost to a squad that hasn’t won gold in five years.
McDavid was sporting a yellow no-contact jersey during a 75-minute evening practice at MasterCard Centre. He was flying down the ice during drills but his puck-handling skills were a little rusty.
"I felt good, obviously a couple hiccups there with the puck," he said. "I thought I was shooting it fine and I got better as the practice went on."
Head coach Benoit Groulx said it would be nice to get McDavid into an exhibition game, but it’s most important to have him ready for the tournament.
"We will follow what the doctor says and how he reacts to shooting the puck and passing the puck," he said. "But right now there’s no rush. We’re happy to have him here and we’ll see how it plays out."
McDavid was on last year’s team that finished fourth in Malmo, Sweden. Canada’s first game at this year’s event will be played at Montreal’s Bell Centre against Slovakia.
"We want to be patient with him in order to have him at 100 per cent," Groulx said. "We don’t want to put Connor McDavid on the ice at 75 per cent. That’s why we’re patient and we’re going to have to wait and see how he reacts to practising."
Other returning players include Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Zach Fucale, defencemen Chris Bigras of the Owen Sound Attack and Josh Morrissey of the Prince Albert Raiders, and forwards Frederik Gauthier of the Rimouski Oceanic, Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks and Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice.
There could still be a few late additions to the camp roster. NHL clubs have until the Dec. 19 roster freeze to decide whether they will loan players to the team.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin won’t be joining the squad but there is a chance Curtis Lazar of the Ottawa Senators and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks could still be added.
The players will practise again Friday before taking on the CIS Toronto Selects over the weekend.
"We have a good positive attitude," Fucale said. "We had a good first practice. It’s starting well."
After the first few days in Toronto, the team will head down the highway for next week’s pre-competition camp in St. Catharines, Ont.
"We have the best of the best here," Groulx said. "The best 30 players in the country. They’re all talented. They have skills, they have size, they have speed, they can shoot and pass the puck. But it’s also about their attitude. What they can bring.
"Can they block shots? Can they forecheck hard? Can they track hard? Can they make the big plays when it matters the most? To me that’s the difference between a good CHL player — because there are a lot of good CHL players — but we’ve got to have, on this team, world-class players. Guys that can adapt their game and elevate their play. This is what we’re looking for."
Canada will play group stage games in Montreal and knockout games in Toronto. The tournament runs through Jan. 5.