The fact that Connor McDavid is even playing hockey this season is a minor miracle. The Edmonton Oilers’ superstar has made a full recovery from a major knee injury he suffered when he crashed hard into the goalpost in the final game of the 2018-19 season. What makes this even more unthinkable is that he looks better than ever.
The 23-year-old phenom leads the NHL in assists (49), points (76), power play assists (24) and power play points (34) in 49 games, and has been the driving force behind the Oilers’ playoff push this season.
While McDavid’s injury was originally believed to be a small PCL ligament tear in his left knee, TSN reporter Ryan Rishaug put out a note on his Twitter account on Tuesday that the injury was more severe than first let on:
After speaking with a member of McDavid’s camp, some follow up on his knee injury. Roughly 10 days after the injury, McDavid was informed that major reconstructive surgery was required on his torn PCL. It would have cost him the entire 2019-20 season and fundamentally changed the way his knee worked and the way he skated. They sought out three more options and the option of rehab, which McDavid took. It had its risks as there was no guarantee the PCL would heal properly on its own, but a strict regimen of stabilization, diet and thorough rehab allowed it to heal. They kept the information extremely guarded through the process, not wanting the hail storm of questions about his future to come while he was working to get back. It certainly explains the tension at training camp when talking about his recovery and how his knee felt. Presented as a slight PCL tear, this was in fact a major knee injury McDavid suffered.Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) Jan. 21, 2020
McDavid’s Uncanny Ability to Recover
Since 2014, McDavid has endured three significant injuries, including a fractured bone in his right hand, a fractured left clavicle, and a torn PCL, as well as a crack in the front tibia of his left knee. But he’s always managed to heal more quickly than anticipated and return to being an elite player.
During his final OHL season in 2014-15, McDavid broke his right hand in a fight when he missed his target and punched the glass. After scoring an incredible 51 points in the first 18 games (2.83 points-per-game) that season, the then-17-year-old missed six weeks of action as a result of his injury.
However, McDavid returned in time to play for Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto. McDavid, who was named an alternate captain, helped Canada win gold and tied for the tournament-lead in scoring with 11 points in 7 games.
Less than a year later, McDavid suffered a broken collarbone after he was driven into the end boards in full flight by Philadelphia Flyers’ defenceman Brandon Manning. After missing 37 games of his rookie season with the injury, McDavid put up 36 points in 32 games down the stretch drive and established himself as the Oilers’ most dangerous offensive player.
McDavid was the first player to be named NHL rookie of the month three times since Alexander Ovechkin in 2005-06 and the first rookie to average more than a point-per-game (1.07) since Evgeni Malkin (1.09) in 2006-07.
Based on the details that have come out, his most recent injury was easily the worst of his career. Learning about the severity of the injury and how hard he worked to return in time for training camp, makes what he’s done this season all the more impressive.
McDavid Should Win the Masterton Trophy
McDavid has already won five awards in his young NHL career, and he could be adding some new hardware to his trophy case in June. In 2015-16, McDavid was the second runner-up for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, despite missing almost half of the season.
In 2016-17, McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion, the Hart Memorial Trophy as most valuable player and the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA. He joined Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby as the only players in NHL history to win a scoring title at age 20 or younger.
In 2017-18, McDavid won both the Art Ross Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award again. He joined Bobby Orr and Gretzky as the only players in NHL history to win a major individual award multiple times at age 21 or younger. In 2018-19, McDavid was the second runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy and a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award.
McDavid is the favourite to capture the Art Ross, Hart and Lindsay awards again in 2019-20, but I believe he should also take home the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.
Just 179 days after McDavid suffered what could have been a career-altering injury, he was back on the ice for the Oilers’ opening-night game against the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 2. Avoiding surgery and not missing a single game should win him the Masterton, but for McDavid to be dominating offensively only strengthens his case.
The NHL is a better league when McDavid is healthy and playing to the best of his abilities.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.