Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid is back, having played Tuesday for the first time in 37 games, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was a memorable return as the rookie scored a highlight-reel goal and added two assists in a 5-1 victory.
He has missed the past three months with a broken left clavicle, sustained against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3, 2015.
With his unforgettable return, McDavid has 15 points in 14 games this season.
During the preseason, Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said McDavid was capable of scoring 20 goals and adding 20 assists in his first season. That output, though, was predicated on a full season of production. Is it still a valid prediction after missing 37 games through injury?
The preseason statistical models expected McDavid to blow away Chiarelli's modest projection. Based on his scoring in the Ontario Hockey League, and on historical players with similar statistics in the past, McDavid was expected to score between 70 and 77 points during an 82-game schedule. Based on the pace he set with 12 points in the first 13 games, those models were right on the mark.
With 31 games left to play, McDavid needs 25 points to reach 40 for the season, well within reach given the statistical models, and his pace in October. If he reaches that milestone, it would give the Oilers six rookies since 2005-06 to have reached that mark, tying them with the Colorado Avalanche for the most such players.
While 25 points in 31 games is a target statistically attainable, there are a variety of factors and decisions that can affect McDavid's scoring, including how close he is to 100 percent, with whom he plays, how much ice time he gets in various manpower situations, and random puck luck.
One factor working in favor of McDavid's increased scoring is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be out of the lineup for several more weeks after injuring his hand blocking a shot Jan. 18 against the Florida Panthers. The absence of Edmonton's No. 1 center moves McDavid up the depth chart at even strength and with the man advantage.
The power play is the key area in which McDavid can rack up points and have an immediate impact. At the time of his injury, the Oilers were tied for fourth in the League with 10 power-play goals. McDavid had points on three of those 10 goals. In the 37 games that followed without him, the Oilers were last with 14 goals. In his first game back, the Oilers scored two power-play goals. McDavid had an assist on each.
Video: LAK@EDM: Pouliot buries Nugent-Hopkins' feed
McDavid's scoring is closely tied to his linemates. In 12 of the first 13 games of the season, McDavid played with Benoit Pouliot on the left wing and Nail Yakupov on the right. Pouliot and Yakupov scored a combined 18 points in those 13 games, and have scored the same 18 points in the 37 games that followed, in 28 and 15 games, respectively. The two players were split up three games after McDavid's injury, which was when Pouliot was united with Eberle. McDavid's two newest linemates combined for four points against Columbus.
To further establish what McDavid could have achieved without his broken collarbone, consider the rise to prominence of Leon Draisaitl, who centers the top line with Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell. Draisaitl is second on the team to Hall with 13 goals, 25 assists and 38 points, and leads the team with a plus-5 rating. These are all totals McDavid could have reached or eclipsed, if he hadn't been injured.
Draisaitl's even-strength scoring rate of 2.77 points per 60 minutes is second in the NHL to McDavid's 2.85. He is also one of only nine players who have scored more than 10 points to have figured directly into at least 90 percent of his team's scoring while he was on the ice. McDavid's individual points percentage, as this statistic is known, is also 90 percent.
McDavid could provide a huge boost to Edmonton's scoring. The Oilers averaged 2.77 goals per game through the first 13 games of the season, which ranked No. 12 in the NHL. In the 37 games McDavid missed, the Oilers averaged 2.22 goals, ahead of only the Vancouver Canucks during that time span. Upon his return, Edmonton scored five goals against Columbus.
With that victory, the Oilers have 45 points in 51 games, but they still enter the weekend next-to-last in the overall standings. With the Stanley Cup Playoffs a longshot at this point, a hot streak by McDavid could negatively impact their position in the NHL Draft Lottery.
But the impact is likely to be minimal on the race, no matter how well McDavid plays in his return.
No single player really affects the standings that dramatically during a 31-game period. In terms of points in the standings, the best skaters in the League, such as Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, are estimated to be worth between five and seven points apiece in the standings during any 50-game period this season. Hall, the most valuable player on the Oilers, has been worth a little more than four points in the standings. That means that even an outstanding performance by McDavid down the stretch is unlikely to move the needle by more than two or three points.
But McDavid's return will help bring hope and energy to a team that has been badly hit by injuries this season, and is facing its 10th consecutive absence from postseason play. While it can't be captured in a spreadsheet, having that momentum going into the summer could be worth more than a position or two in the draft order.