“How's the draft looking this year?”
Next summer’s talent grab should have been the last thing Edmonton fans had on their minds this season. In the days after baseball’s Kansas City Royals proved that smart drafting and patient development could make long years of suffering worthwhile, the Oilers were just beginning to reap the rewards of their own decade of despair. Leon Draisaitl, the team’s 2014 first round pick, put up his third multiple-point performance in just his third NHL game, a 4–2 win over the Flyers. Hulking defender Darnell Nurse, their first pick in 2013, was laying the body and making smart plays in transition in just his fourth contest.
And then there was McDavid, the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for October and a player who merited every bit of the hype that led to his being selected with the first pick in 2015.
Good times seemed just around the corner. But after watching the 18-year-old slam heavily into the boards after getting tangled up with Philadelphia defensemen Brandon Manning and Michael Del Zotto, a little gallows humor might be the only option for this long-suffering fan base.
We learned Wednesday that McDavid suffered a broken left clavicle, an injury that Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli said will require both surgery and a long recovery period.
"He'll be out indefinitely," Chiarelli said. "We're not talking week-to-week, we're talking months. That's plural. Months.
"It's disappointing. Today feels like a loss. And we won last night."
It also continues a string of bad luck in Edmonton, where a lengthy stint on the IR is becoming a rite of passage for the team’s top picks.
Taylor Hall suffered a high ankle sprain that limited him to just 65 games after being selected with the top pick in 2010. A separated shoulder sliced 20 games off the rookie season of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins one year later. Only Nail Yakupov managed to play out an entire campaign, although he may have caught a break when his debut season was shortened to 48 games by the lockout.
Hockey’s a tough game. Injuries are bound to happen. But none of those hurt quite as bad as this one because really, the timing is so much worse. Those Oilers teams were already deep in the weeds when they lost Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, and things were already ugly. But McDavid’s arrival, along with the other kids, finally had this team competing on a nightly basis, and even winning the occasional game.
One step forward. One huge step back.
Fortunately, it’s only temporary. McDavid, who rebounded nicely from a broken hand he suffered midway through last season, could be back driving play at both ends of the ice before the All-Star break. Maybe sooner. Although no two injuries are the same, Patrick Kane returned from a broken clavicle in just seven weeks after his original timeline was set at 12. So there's hope for a speedy recovery.
In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how this team holds it together without him.
There’s certainly an opportunity here for Draisaitl to assume more responsibility. "Leon gives us a very good option," Chiarelli said. "He can play both [center and wing]." The key to his success will be limiting his mistakes as he acclimates to the league, especially up against the tighter checking he’ll face with McDavid gone. Yakupov, who is enjoying a quiet breakthrough season of his own, will be asked to take on a more central role. Jordan Eberle, who's been out of action since sustaining a shoulder injury in preseason action, will be back soon. And Nurse, though he plays a different position, will be counted on to provide some of the speed in transition that will be lost with McDavid out of the lineup.
It will be a challenging stretch for the Oilers, and for the league as well. Losing a marquee player, especially days ahead of his first game against Sidney Crosby, hurts the product.
Here’s hoping McDavid’s stint on the IR is a short one.
• That, unfortunately, won’t be the case for Chris Kelly. The Bruins forward fractured his left femur in Tuesday’s game against the Stars and is expected to be sidelined for six to eight months. That convalescence that almost certainly ends his tenure with the B’s, and could spell the end of his career.
The injury looked to be a total fluke, apparently caused by catching his skate in a rut.
It’s a huge loss for a Bruins team that was finally coming together after a rough start.
“I think people are going to realize how important he is to our hockey club, not just on the ice but also in the dressing room and around the team,” coach Claude Julien said in his postgame comments to the media. “He’s a guy who is extremely respected by his teammates and on the ice he’s given us everything we’ve asked for. He’s been moved around in all different positions, never says a word, but just thrives on the opportunity to play in those spots that we’ve put him.
“He was a very versatile player that we really counted on. No doubt he’ll be missed.”
The question now is: Can Kelly make it back to the NHL? The veteran forward is in the last year of his contract and was already viewed as unlikely to return to Boston based on the team’s needs to get younger and clear some space under the cap. And anyone who paid attention to last summer’s market recognizes the demand for players who are 35 or older is minimal. Coming off a traumatic injury that will keep him off skates for at least half a year won’t help his cause, either.
It would be a tough way for the 2011 Stanley Cup winner to go out. Hopefully he bucks the odds and finds his way back to the game somewhere.
The numbers game
• Tyler Seguin’s six hat tricks for Stars are the most by any NHL player during the last three seasons. He’s also the first member of the draft class of 2010 to reach 300 career points.
• With a 5-0-0 mark at the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild are the NHL's only team that has not lost on home ice this season
• After beating the Lightning 2–1 on Tuesday night, the Red Wings are 17-2-3 all-time in regular-season games against Tampa Bay at Joe Louis Arena.
• ESPN has produced a brief documentary on Senators fan Jonathan Pitre, “The Butterfly Child.” If you need a little perspective on your own life this morning, this’ll do the trick. What an amazing kid.
• What do the Mounties have to do with violence in hockey? An academic study draws a straight line between on-ice NHL hooliganism and a century-old policing pattern in Western Canada. Seriously.
• Speaking of violence, former NHL and minor league enforcer Sasha Lakovic is the latest to speak out on the long-term repercussions of a career spent throwing hands.
• Finally, this member of the Hall’s Class of 2015 grew up wanting to emulate Bobby Orr. And in the women’s game, that’s pretty much who she became.