clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The NHL's rookie race is still thrilling without Connor McDavid

New, comments

McDavid's absence won't hurt as much as you think it will.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It ended with a crunch.

The pile of three bodies that slammed into the end boards made a jarring sound that reverberated through the rafters of Rexall Place. It was an incredibly violent collision, almost as violent as the grinding halt to the Edmonton Oilers' season that resulted from it.

One of those bodies was 18-year-old Connor McDavid, the 2015 first overall draft pick and one of the brightest young stars in the NHL. When he came up clutching his shoulder you could sense Oilers fans everywhere dreading the worst. And the worst came to pass.

Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan says that McDavid is out for the "long-term" with an upper-body injury. On Wednesday, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said "we're talking about months" before the young star returns.

There's no underselling it: this is a crushing blow for the Oilers and the league. Through sheer luck and abysmal hockey the Oilers have been blessed with four first overall draft picks since 2010. Yet, none of them have translated to success for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade. McDavid (with comparisons to Sidney Crosby) is supposed to change that.

And through one month of his rookie year, it looked like he could. He led all rookies in scoring and earned the NHL's rookie of the month. He found chemistry with Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov. His blend of speed, skill and smarts were dynamic and the Oilers began to turn the ship around after a slow start. McDavid and the Oilers were already becoming one of the more entertaining teams to watch in the league.

And then the injury. The frustrating thing about the label "long-term" is no one knows when exactly McDavid will be back. It could be January. It could be 2016. What we do know is significant recovery time costs McDavid a shot at the Calder Trophy and perhaps the Oilers a shot at the playoffs. McDavid's opportunity at a historic rookie season is over.

But it doesn't ruin the rookie race.

Yes, Jack Eichel is still the favorite to win the Calder Trophy in Buffalo. But the fact is the league is flooded with exciting young players this season.

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin, coming off two game-winning goals in a row, has shown game-changing abilities while playing big minutes. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair look like the Coyotes' answer to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Chicago or Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in Dallas. They lead the team in goals and spent the first month of the season overwhelming opponents with highlight-worthy plays. Perhaps no rookie is as skilled or thrilling to watch with the puck as Winnipeg Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers.

Sam Bennett in Calgary. Oscar Lindberg in New York. Mattias Janmark in Dallas. I could go on. On any given night in the NHL you can expect to see a rookie playing beyond his years. This doesn't happen every season. It speaks volumes about the future of the NHL (oh boy, will the next decade will be exciting) but it also keeps the Calder race interesting without McDavid.

That doesn't do anything to console Oilers fans. They got to play with their new toy for 10 minutes before it broke. The good news is once that toy is fixed they'll have it for the next decade. And the rest of the league will be jealous all over again.