McLellan on McDavid: “He’s ready to go.”

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As expected, Connor McDavid will return to the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup on Tuesday. In his post-practice availability today, head coach Todd McLellan made it clear that McDavid was completely healthy and would be playing against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

McDavid spent the All-Star break with the Bakersfield Condors, and although he didn’t play any games during his brief stint in the AHL he did get to skate and take some contact in practice.

“We wouldn’t put him in a game if he didn’t have the chance to get pushed around and banged and fall and take one-timers and all that type of stuff,” McLellan said when asked about it. “The car has been test-driven now for quite a while; it’s ready to go out on the race track. Who knows what happens after that, but it’s been tested. He’s ready to go.”

Nobody is likely to argue that perspective. Some, like our own Matt Henderson, are McDavid clavicle truthers and believe that the superstar centre has been ready to play for a while now. Whatever the case, nobody can claim that the Oilers rushed him back from injury, something which has been said of the franchise far too often in the past. The team took its time, and in its shoes I’d have done precisely the same.

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McLellan suggested that the exact timing also offers McDavid an advantage in that the rest of the league is going to be a little rusty, too.

I think he’s going to be very comfortable playing now, but timing and conditioning and reading and reacting on the ice, it’s not an easy thing to do, especially coming in as a 19-year-old halfway through the season. The one advantage that Connor might have is that the whole league took a bit of a break and we might all be coming back rusty. It might give him a chance to be able to fit in a little bit quicker. But based on how he skated today and knowing the work he’s put in I’m not as worried about him as maybe some others.

It’s a good point. McDavid is coming off a long break, but he’s been skating for the past week while most of the remainder of the NHL caught its breath.

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We feel good about starting [McDavid and Eberle] there. There has to be a starting point. [Pouliot] had some familiarity with Connor and Kassian, Letestu and Yak have played together over the last little bit. I think Kassian gives them some physicality that’s allowed them to play well, too.

It’s not surprising to see Jordan Eberle and Connor McDavid united on the same line, nor to see Benoit Pouliot as the left wing on that unit. With Taylor Hall anchoring one line and McDavid the other, Pouliot is almost a default choice and gives the centre a familiar face at left wing.

The real question was on right wing, where there’s a legitimate debate between where Eberle and Yakupov should be assigned. Yakupov of course enjoyed tremendous chemistry with McDavid to start the season, and there’s a case that the two should be reunited. Eberle though has had a tough season and giving him some time with McDavid will help and will also give the organization an idea of what kind of chemistry exists between the two.

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The important thing to remember is that this is temporary; the coach can change his approach at any time. It’s also worth keeping in mind that Teddy Purcell is playing top line right wing at the moment and is likely trade bait at some point prior to the deadline; if and when he goes it’s reasonable to expect top-six minutes for both Eberle and Yakupov.

We had [McDavid] penalty-killing 10 or 12 games into the season where he worked his way into that; I don’t know how much of that he’ll do off the bat. We also have to watch his minutes and make sure that he’s handling it. The way he skated today I’m not as worried about Connor as I am the other 19 who have been off for a week.

The idea of using the penalty kill as a development tool for young players isn’t new and it’s one I have some time for. McDavid had been averaging just under 40 seconds per game there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets back out there eventually, particularly once the Oilers are just playing out the string, but it would be tempting fate a little too much to stick McDavid on the penalty kill fresh off injured reserve.

As for watching his minutes, this has been standard McLellan protocol when it comes to injured players this year. Early on, they typically play in a lesser role if they show signs of struggling.

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He was driving our team and he was the energizer guy when he got hurt. I think the rest should energize our team, too. I think I have to make this clear: I am concerned about the rustiness and the ability to get back up into game shape but I think our team needed that, the way we had to overplay guys because of injuries. We may take it on the chin a little bit as far as polish goes right off the bat but the reset button came with time off, it came with kind of a foundation practice today and some really good video; we got to review our game in a lot of different areas and spend some time working on it. Throw Connor into the mix and I think it’s exciting.

McLellan would also add that he was concerned about the rest of the club letting its collective foot off the gas with McDavid back in the lineup, but it’s the part quoted here that really caught my eye. For most of the last decade, the stretch drive has been unpleasant in Edmonton.

This season marks a bit of a change. We’ll still look ahead to the draft on this site, there will still be veterans shipped off for draft picks and there will undoubtedly still be plenty of losses. But the return of McDavid provides the Oilers with a much-needed boost down the stretch, something they haven’t had in most previous campaigns.

It should be fun to watch.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Speed Junky

    Since our roster might look like a full contingent soon, wouldn’t it be appropriate to make Hall the captain already? He has been carrying the team all season, not having the official leader be named is like flying a plane with only co-pilots.

  • S cottV

    With all the potential trade talk involving Eberle, it makes particular sense to check out the chemistry potential with McD.

    It probably increases Eberle’s value in trade and perhaps you come to the conclusion, the chemistry is too good to pass on.

    The Nuge injury is a real pain for similar reasons. If avoided, it would have opened up many different looks to consider, before – maybe, moving key players out in trade.

    I would be shocked – at the end of the day, if it works out that Yak is the logical choice to play with McD. Yak’s lack of hockey IQ is gonna get in the way. You don’t want to saddle McD with any kind of an anchor effect. It just doesn’t make sense.

    It probably works out that Eberle looks good with McD, but his lack of size, presence, and rounded play will show. I think they trade him.

    I know that Yak City would not agree, but I would not be surprised to see Kassian in the eventual mix, to play with McD.

    Kassian looks damn good and I think he has another gear to gain with additional conditioning and game readiness.

    Pouliot – McD – Kassian.

    Now you’ve got size, possession, cycling, net presence, protection, smarts, street smarts, more time and space for McD – etc etc..

  • Dawn

    I don’t get you guys with your Eberle hate. I’ve been waiting ALL SEASON to see what McDavid and Ebs can do on a line. And I’m stoked it’s finally happening. Some of you guys seem to be forgetting that Eberle is really good at the hockey. So what if he doesn’t push the river like some others. You can’t have a whole team full of those guys. There probably isn’t 30 of them in the whole league. Ebs is a tricksy finisher… consistently. I don’t care what $$ he makes just cause he got paid for a really good year. You all loved that contract when it happened. He would have got that kind of money no matter where he played at the time. Eberle still brings the squeee.

    PS: I still love the Yak too.

    • OILFANMEXICO

      theres no hate, its just that for this team to progress, they need to address there biggest weakness, and thats defence, If it costs an eberle, or a nuge then so be it. Yak has 0 value right now, so it has to be one of them to get a Hamonic or shattenkirk. It has been proven that the core of this team needs to be changed up, the results have spoken.

  • OILFANMEXICO

    Come On Oilers Nation. No hate today, let’s just appreciate what we have.

    We have Connor McDavid, the best player in Hockey. A player that has not been seen since Mario (sorry Sid). It is time for us to enjoy what the Hockey God’s blessed us with.

    • Semenko27

      its time to enjoy another death march to another 1st overall draft pick. The draft lottery party for 2016 should be better, as Auston mathews is the final piece of the puzzle for this team. THE DRIVE FOR 5

  • As the Katz empire struggles to fill the new barn, most specifically the premium seating options….. they need this kid to carry the load, capture the imagination, loosen the purse strings…. offer hope… etc etc etc …. cuz the other guys…… welp.

    No pressure kid.

    None at all.

    • R U Kidding Me!

      there is 0 chance a player missing 37 games will win the calder trophy, just too many man games lost, as it will either go to Panarin or Larkin. Theres already been a precedent set when Nugent Hopkins was denied the calder despite being tied in the rookie scoring lead with Landeskog, but because Nuge missed 20 games he didnt get it. Its too bad conner missed half the season and it will cost him any legit chance of a calder.

  • BobbyCanuck

    Eberle is my permanent goat

    That being said, I would be surprised if he does not score at least a goal a game with McDavid

    the +/- for that line may be a different story

  • OILFANMEXICO

    Oiler fans have to be grateful to land the superstars Gretzky, Messier and now McDavid. I’m also glad McDavid is such a nice kid with a great upbringing just like the other two legends. Welcome back Connor.

  • S cottV

    It is no competition, Eberle is greater than Yakapov. It is clear that the majority of Oilers Nation agrees given the trash it/Cheers numbers. Those who disagree, must value a high tempo, erratic style of play, no matter how much a defensive liability it is! And those who think draft position determines a players potential! Yak has a ton of heart but lacks the hockey IQ of the NHL elite (which includes Eberle). Everyone’s hate for Eberle has largely emerged this season as Hall and Drai have elevated their games while he has been playing away from Hall and largely with, an also struggling, RNH. Basing your opinion on half a season of play is ludicrous. Especially given what Eberle has done so far in his career, playing with offensively incompetent defensemen and 0 elite level veteran forwards. If Eberle ends up on a line with Tavares, it is going to be quite painful for Oilers fans to realize what they gave up! It may be necessary at the end of the day but don’t underestimate the massive hole that would be left in his departure.