When we last saw Connor McDavid on an NHL ice surface he was streaking down the right side, trying to burn past Mark Giordano and go in for a scoring chance on Mike Smith. But the play ended with McDavid falling to the ice and colliding with the net at full speed. It was the final game of the regular season, but his off-season started right at that moment with a PCL injury that force him out of the game.
There has been a lot of speculation through the summer about how the recovery process has gone for Edmonton’s captain and most important player, and with training camps on the horizon everyone is wondering if McDavid will be a full-go on Day 1. Speaking at the BioSteel Camp in Toronto on Monday (an event he didn’t hit the ice for), McDavid didn’t commit to that or shoot down the idea he could be ready in a couple weeks.
On top of McDavid’s recovery, the off-season has brought change to the organization. Experienced vets Ken Holland and Dave Tippett are now running the operation from the GM and head coaching spots, while James Neal and Smith were added to the roster. With all this Edmonton will again head into a new season optimistic, but with a lot to prove to the naysayers after the team has failed to build on its playoff appearance and second-round exit from 2017.
McDavid joined Joey Vendetta on Sportsnet 590 The FAN Monday and touched on a few topics from his injury, to the Oilers’ off-season moves and how important he thinks it is for teams to have a captain.
What does someone do to recover from a PCL injury and how do you ease into the recovery once you find out you have the injury?
“It’s been a long process. There’s been a lot that’s gone into it. Lots of different stuff. I’m lucky that I have some pretty good doctors working on it and a really good rehab team working on it. I’ve been really lucky.”
Andrew Luck retires on the weekend and cites that he’s fatigued and tired of dealing with injuries. How do you relate to a guy like Luck, who is older? You’ve battled injuries — what happens mentally to a high performance athlete when something like this happens?
“It’s mentally tough, it’s challenging. I don’t really know what it’s like to be in (Luck’s) shoes but personally I feel like it’s the missing games part that makes it hard. It’s one thing to recover from an injury, but it’s another to watch your team out there playing without you. I’m lucky I didn’t have to worry about that this summer, though it is still tough. I can’t relate to what’s going on with (Luck) and it’s an unfortunate situation… mentally it is tough, but you gotta battle through it.”
The Oilers brought in Dave Tippett as head coach and Ken Holland as the GM to oversee everything. How did those additions change your perspective on the coming season?
“Two veteran guys, Kenny Holland with a long time in Detroit putting together the dynasty there… that’s an impressive run. Anytime you can get a guy like that to run your team is probably a good thing. And obviously ‘Tip’ with all his experience and kind of his structure and all that I think is going to be a really good fit for our group.”
How much of what you do on the ice is ability and how much is a result of work ethic and practice?
“I’d like to think that it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of practice. I don’t think too much is given to anyone — I don’t think that’s the case. In my case in the summer you’re shooting pucks, you’re at the gym, you’re on the ice, you’re doing all types of different stuff. What fans see is the game and the finished product, but what they don’t see is all the hours spent that goes into that finished product. So it’s definitely a lot of work and there’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff.”
What will James Neal add to the Edmonton Oilers?
“First off, we’re going to miss (Milan Lucic). He came in and did a lot for our group. Definitely learned a lot from him both on and off the ice. He’s a true professional and he’s got a great family and we’ll miss them all. I think that needs to be said.
“Obviously with Neal coming, he’s a guy who’s won everywhere he’s been, he’s scored everywhere he’s been with the exception of last year. I’ve had the opportunity to work out with him at Gary Roberts’ facility for a few summers now and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him work harder. He’s doing everything right. He’s really looking to have a bounce back year and we’re excited about it.”
And what about Mike Smith?
“We got like 17 feet of goaltenders (Smith is six-foot-five, Mikko Koskinen six-foot-seven), so that should be good. Smith’s obviously a veteran guy as well and plays the puck really well — he’s a good goaltender. We’ve seen him a lot in the Pacific Division. He’s been in Arizona and Calgary so I know lots about him and I know him from the gym as well. He’s a great guy and a great goaltender.”
What do the Oilers have to do to take that step forward in 2019-20 and return to the playoffs?
“I think if there was some sort of magic answer every team would be trying to do it. There’s not one specific answer or thing that needs to be said or done. We just need to come in and everyone needs to do their job and we need to come together and be a good hockey team. That’s the bottom line.”
How important is it for a team to have a captain and what are their responsibilities?
“I’m not sure how important it is to have a specific guy as captain. It’s gotta be team leadership. You look at a team like St. Louis that won the Cup. Sure, (Alex) Pietrangelo is a great captain and all that, but you look at the leaders in the room there’s lots of different guys who could wear it and I think those are the most successful teams — the ones who have a bunch of leaders and lead in different ways.
“I can see where you’re heading with this question so if you’re looking at Toronto I don’t think it matters. They have lots of guys who could wear it. If they pick one great, if not I’m sure it won’t change much.”