TORONTO — It’s hard to imagine what this morning would have felt like if Connor McDavid was actually able to play for the Edmonton Oilers.
There was an unmistakeable buzz at Air Canada Centre on Monday even with the teenager still more than a month away from returning to the lineup. McDavid grew up in Newmarket, Ont., cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs and made no secret of his desire to play for the team before Edmonton won the NHL’s draft lottery in the spring.
Now very much part of the Oilers family, the chance to play here against the Leafs would have been something he relished.
“Obviously this one hurts a lot,” McDavid said. “You want to play here in your hometown. I was definitely looking forward to this one, for sure. It sucks, but it is what it is.
“Maybe for the World Cup. We’ll see.”
At least the 18-year-old has made significant progress in his recovery from a broken clavicle, confirming last week’s report from Mark Spector that he is well ahead of schedule.
McDavid suffered his injury in a Nov. 3 game against Philadelphia and could return by mid-January if things go well. He hasn’t resumed skating yet and will let others determine the exact timetable.
“I’m going to let the doctors figure that one out,” he said. “They’re the smart ones. They get paid money to figure that stuff out. I’m just here trying to make sure I’m feeling good and making sure that I’m staying in shape and ready for when that happens.”
McDavid spent the last week with family in the Toronto area and will travel home with the Oilers following Monday’s game. The organization has gone out of its way to keep him up to speed, even sending along video clips detailing their systems work.
Edmonton’s record without McDavid is 3-6-2 and coach Todd McLellan described his injury as a “big hit” for the team.
McDavid has been watching closely and doesn’t think his teammates are too far off.
“I know it’s tough to stay positive when you’re losing so many close games but we’re in every game,” he said. “With any bounces, we’d be winning those and be maybe in a different position.”
Given how important McDavid is to the Oilers’ long-term future, they won’t need any reminders about the importance of not rushing him back.
However, the player acknowledged that he took note of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo being sidelined for the remainder of the season after making a quick return from the same collarbone injury.
“Obviously it can play in the back of your mind,” McDavid said. “I don’t really know what happened. Maybe he came back a little bit too early, I don’t really know. Kind of unlucky, I think even if his collarbone wasn’t broken earlier in the year he would’ve broken it there.
“It was just an awkward play.”
McDavid seemed to be taking flight just when he got injured — scoring five goals and 12 points in 13 games. He singlehandedly made Oilers games appointment viewing for fans around the league, something that will no doubt happen again when he returns.
You can bet there will be all kinds of hype when he has a chance to play his first NHL game at the ACC.
Unfortunately, that won’t come until next season.