EDMONTON — The hockey world does not know Connor McDavid as intimately as you’d think we might after five seasons of all-consuming, wall-to-wall coverage. In case you haven’t noticed, the Oilers McSaviour is not exactly an open book.
Like this nugget, when we asked him on Monday about the laugh that he, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse gather together for during the warmup before every game. Like, could he let us in on that bit of his routine, just a bit?
“Nothing… Nothing that really needs to be shared,” he divulged. “It’s really nothing at all.”
What we have gleaned over the years, however, is McDavid’s aversion to special treatment. He so dearly wants to be one of the guys, and McDavid will go to almost any length not to be perceived as being above a teammate in any way.
It’s why we’d bet he’ll play Tuesday against Chicago, even though nobody around the Oilers — including McDavid — would commit to that after he bruised his knee in a 3-2 win over Nashville on Saturday.
“There’s the old saying,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said, when pressed about whether McDavid was going to miss his first game of the season. “You can play hurt, but you can’t play injured. Lots of guys play with bumps and bruises. If you’re injured, and there is a danger of hurting yourself worse, then you don’t play.
“But if it’s a bruise? Every guy, every time you line up in a game, you have a bruise somewhere.”
This wasn’t Tippett shaming his best player into suiting up against the Blackhawks. No one has to shame McDavid — he’s proven a gamer, missing just four games over the past four seasons (including this one). He plays sick, he plays banged up and he has plays hard even in games that are meaningless when one looks at the standings.
One thing we have come to assume about McDavid is this: because he has been treated as “the special one” by every hockey parent and every coach since he was probably five years old, the one thing he tries hardest to be is simply one of the guys. And hockey guys play with bruises.
“Kind of a Charley horse. Kind of more part of the quad, top of the knee,” explained McDavid, when asked to pinpoint the injury.
After what he went through rehabilitating his left knee all summer long, did it ever cross his mind that he might have blown up that same knee on Saturday?
“No, it never really crossed my mind,” he said. “It’s a completely different part. Nothing that was hurt before hurts now.
“It’s the same knee, but it’s nothing related to what happened last year.”
People across the hockey spectrum watched the documentary that took us through a summer of rehab for McDavid, so any injury to that left knee does not go unnoticed in the four corners of the hockey world. But in Canada — and more acutely, in Northern Alberta — it was the topic du jour through Sunday and Monday. Especially when McDavid stepped out on the practice ice Monday morning, but left for the dressing room after the work on the power play had concluded.
It turns out, that was the plan: Take a short skate, loosen up, and then head for an ice bag.
But when he hurt the left knee on Saturday, the concern in the building was palpable.
“During the game, everyone has to be dialed in on themselves,” said Oilers forward Zack Kassian. “But I’m sure that everyone goes up to him after the game and asks him if he’s OK.
“You see him go into the boards, it was kind of a weird play. Everyone is looking, probably thinking, ‘Uh, oh.’ But he skated it off, and that was that.”
The Oilers players are accepting of the tizzy caused by even a potential McDavid injury. “That’s what happens when you have that calibre of player,” said Kassian.
They also know that if McDavid doesn’t play on Tuesday, that he’s not looking for a day off, or taking a break that wouldn’t be afforded to a third- or fourth-line player.
“Ultimately the players know if he can play or not,” Tippett said. “He’ll come in in the morning, skate again, we’ll see if he wants to play. If he’s good to play, then we’ll play him.
“He’s got a bruise above his knee.”
That’s it. No PCL tear. No flying south to see specialists. No more documentaries, Part II.
“We’ll see where he is in the morning,” said Tippett. “I’m not saying he’s in or out.”