“He is ready to go,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan announced Monday after McDavid skated in practice, centring a line between Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot.
The 19-year-old rookie phenom will play his first game since he piled into the boards against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3. He has missed 37 games, almost half a season.
McDavid, who spent the last week practising with the Oilers’ Bakersfield Condors AHL team, was asked by reporters if he was nervous heading into just the 14th game of his NHL career.
“Anxious is probably the better word,” he said. “I’m excited. It feels like my first game all over again.”
He said he’s not going to let the injury play on his mind when the puck drops.
“The doctors wouldn’t let me play if I wasn’t 100 per cent,” he said. “They say it’s safe to play, so it’s safe to play.”
McDavid has five goals and 12 points in 13 games, tied for 18th in rookie NHL scoring, and is plus-four with six penalty minutes. His five goals were on 24 shots, for a team leading 20.8 scoring percentage.
He hasn’t even played one shift with Eberle, who was out for the start of the season with a shoulder injury. By the time Eberle came back, McDavid was out.
McDavid believes they’ll mesh well.
“He (Eberle) has got those quick great hands and a deceiving shot that fools goalies a lot of the time,” said McDavid. “If you get him the puck in a good spot, you know he’s going to finish it.”
Eberle says it may be easier for McDavid to get back to game speed given that all NHL players are coming off the all-star break.
“With his speed and the way he thinks the game he’ll be fine,” said Eberle.
McLellan said the plan for McDavid is to “open the door and say go,” but said they’ll be watching his minutes to see how he is doing.
“The way he skated today I’m not as worried about Connor as I am the other 19 that have been off a week,” he said.
McLellan he said he doesn’t know how much penalty kill time McDavid will get immediately.
McDavid began the year averaging between 16 and 18 minutes a night but was above the 20 minute mark in his final three games before he went down against the Flyers.
He returns to a team that is still mathematically in the playoff hunt but is tied with Columbus for last overall in the league, with 43 points. The Oilers are 19-26-5, 10 points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They have 32 games to play.
The Oilers are on pace to tie the record set by the Florida Panthers for most consecutive seasons out of the playoffs at 10.
McDavid has been the marquee patient on a star-studded Oilers injury list that has included Eberle and Nail Yakupov. Still waiting to return are defenceman Oscar Klefbom and centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Edmonton leads the NHL with 241 man-games lost to injury this season.
This is the second major injury of McDavid’s embryonic career. In his last year of junior with the Erie Otters he broke his hand in a fight.
McDavid was drafted first overall in the 2015 NHL draft. His goal-scoring ability, speed, and hockey sense have led scouts to bill him as the next Sidney Crosby.