Oilers Can Withstand McDavid Injury

Connor McDavid is, without a doubt, the best player in the NHL right now. One aspect of his game that makes him such a great player is his speed. The trade-off of being one of the fastest players in the world is you raise your risk of injury.

I don’t think anybody would say that McDavid is exactly “injury prone” but his playing style does make him prone to getting into accidents. Saturday night against the Nashville Predators, defender Dante Fabbro and the Edmonton Oilers star forward came together, sending McDavid into the boards. It was not intentional by Fabbro, just two players going hard at the puck.

McDavid came up gingerly and tested his knee during the TV timeout. After some ice packs during the second intermission, he returned for the third period, helping the Oilers secure a 3-2 win. After the game, he commented on the injury.

“I just banged it,” McDavid said Monday. “Just a little sore and swollen. I took an extra day here, and we’ll see how it feels tomorrow. It’s kind of like a charley horse, kind of lower part of the quad, top of the knee part. It was really sore. A bit of a grind, but I just tried to work through it.”

Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid Adam Larsson
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid talks with defenseman Adam Larsson (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

McDavid participated in practice on Monday, taking part in power-play drills before leaving the ice early. He will go to Toronto to rehab his quad during the team’s upcoming road trip and will be back in Edmonton on Monday when the Oilers return.

Who Steps Up?

How do you replace the production of the best player in the world? That’s the question the Oilers need to answer in the upcoming weeks. Edmonton currently sits two points ahead of the Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, and Arizona Coyotes in the Pacific Division. The Vancouver Canucks lead the Pacific Division with 69 points, however, the Oilers have two games in hand. It is important for the team to not fall behind in a very tight playoff race.

Unlike the past couple of years with McDavid in the lineup, Edmonton has enough depth scoring to handle the blow of being without their captain. It begins at the top with Leon Draisaitl, the current NHL leader in points with 89. The Oilers need Draisaitl to be the lead horse for this stretch of play. Doing so will give him the chance to finally squash some critics in the league that state he is only a “product of McDavid.”

Line rushes after McDavid left practice on Monday included an expected first line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. Essentially the second line now becomes the first line for the Oilers. The RNH-Drai-Yamo line has been one of the best lines in hockey since the call-up of Yamamoto.

Making up for the absence of McDavid comes down to every player in the locker room having to rise to the challenge. Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith made that very clear.

“The challenge for the veteran guys in this locker room is to make sure we rise to the challenge, and not taking it as doomsday in here,” Smith said. “Knowing Connor, he’ll be doing everything he can to make sure he gets back as soon as possible. In the meantime, we’re in an important time of the season where points will not come easy.”

Mike Smith
Gaetan Haas Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers forward Gaetan Haas (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The biggest beneficiary of the McDavid injury will be Gaetan Haas. Haas will be tasked with centering the second line and driving the depth scoring that the Oilers will need to keep pace in the division. Haas has 10 points (five goals and five assists) on the season in 47 games with the big club. Haas will be flanked by Sam Gagner and Alex Chiasson.

Colby Cave will likely slot in on the fourth line for the time being, in a role that potentially will be a revolving door. The Oilers announced on Feb. 12 the recall of Tyler Benson. Benson made his NHL debut last week and will look to earn a longer stay in the lineup this time around.

How Does It Impact the Rest of the Season?

Could the Oilers play without McDavid impact the decisions that Holland makes before the upcoming trade deadline on Feb. 24? Ken Holland wasn’t ready to rule anything out.

“The win-loss record is going to affect my thinking…We have seven games before the deadline, so we have to win some hockey games to continue to be in a position to do something.”

Ken Holland

The Oilers started their journey without McDavid with a 5-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night, led by the Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Yamamoto line with a combined eight points. A quick three-game road trip out east against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes is the next test. If there are any positives to take out of the games that McDavid will likely miss, it’s that the Oilers will only play two divisional opponents in that span.

Henri Jokiharju, Jujhar Khaira
Chicago Blackhawks’ Henri Jokiharju and Edmonton Oilers’ Jujhar Khaira (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Would Edmonton rather have McDavid in the lineup? Of course, but as a fan, it is refreshing to see that this lineup is capable of winning games without him.

Edmonton is on pace to make the playoffs for the second time in 14 years. It is also not unreasonable that they could win the Pacific Division if they can string together some wins down the stretch. It is critical that they get their captain back soon, while not falling out of the race during his absence.