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McDavid rejoins Eichel as rookies who dazzle

Healthy again, No. 1 pick has productive first week back

by Mike G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

McDavid on return to ice

Connor McDavid talks returning to Oilers after injury

2/2/16: Connor McDavud will play with Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot as he makes his return to the lineup against the Blue Jackets

  • 03:32 •

Center Connor McDavid was a player on a mission in his return to the Edmonton Oilers lineup last week. 

McDavid had two goals, six points and several other spectacular plays in four games to re-establish himself as a potential candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. It was a scenario that seemed unlikely when the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft missed 37 games after fracturing his left clavicle in a win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3. 

It was a foregone conclusion he would eventually find his game, but it's happened a lot sooner than many would have thought. 

At the time of his injury, McDavid had five goals and 12 points in 13 games. In his first game back against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Feb. 2, McDavid performed as if he never left, with one goal, two assists and four shots on goal in 16:34 of ice time. 

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, had five goals and 10 points after 13 games to open the season. 

He continues to thrive in puck possession efficiency. He scored 11 goals and 24 points during McDavid's 37-game absence and is also considered a Calder possibility in a season loaded with exceptional rookie talent. Eichel, like McDavid, is a threat each shift on the ice. 

McDavid's sixth goal of the season and first since his return from injury could not have been scripted any better. 

After collecting a pass from Jordan Eberle in the neutral zone, McDavid turned on the jets and dangled through defensemen Jack Johnson and Justin Falk before beating goaltender Joonas Korpisalo with a backhand-to-forehand deke 9:58 into the second period. 

He received a standing ovation. 

Video: CBJ@EDM: McDavid finds the net in return from injury

"He's definitely as advertised," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told Dispatch.com. "He's a heck of a player, and he's going to be a good one for a long time. It's a guy you have to watch and know when he's out there. We allowed him too much time and space." 

The rush by McDavid was somewhat reminiscent to the one that landed him in the hospital three months earlier. 

The difference was instead of making an attempt by skating wide left as he did when he sustained his injury against the Flyers, he went straight up the middle against the Blue Jackets. 

McDavid missed eight weeks with a hand injury last season with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League. He had 24 goals and 58 points over 24 games when he returned to the lineup. 

"It was a different injury last season, but you get a sense for what you did to come back and feel good," McDavid said. "I came back and felt I didn't miss a beat." 

It's possible McDavid is feeling the same way right now on a line with Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot. Though McDavid continues to thrive offensively, the Oilers remain a work in progress. Edmonton, which has lost two straight by a combined score of 13-2, concludes a four-game road trip at the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SNOL, MSG, NHL.TV). 

McDavid has seven goals, a 21.9 shotting percentage, and 18 points in 17 games. He has five multipoint efforts, which ties him for fifth among rookies this season. With 28 games left, McDavid needs an attainable 22 points to reach 40 for the season. If he reaches that mark, it would give the Oilers six rookies since 2005-06 to score 40 points in a season, tying them for most in that span with the Colorado Avalanche. 

There are also times when McDavid can excite without even getting a shot on goal. In a 5-1 loss at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, McDavid dazzled the crowd at Bell Centre on an attempt late in the third period, breaking in 1-on-2 against defensemen Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry and ultimately pulling the puck between his legs before getting a shot against goaltender Ben Scrivens that just missed the far top corner.

Even in defeat, McDavid steals the show

Eichel was named NHL Third Star of the Week for games ending Jan. 31 after scoring two goals and four points in two games. He ranks third among rookies in goals (16), assists (19) and points (35), and first in power-play goals (six) and shots on goal (157) in 53 games. He has three multigoal performances, eight multipoint efforts and three game-winning goals. 

One advantage Eichel has on McDavid at this stage is the experience factor in having dealt with more of the daily mental and physical grind of the NHL playing 36 more games. 

"All of us train so hard, eat the right way, and we have so many strength and conditioning people, trainers, people that take care of you," Eichel said. "But mentally, just getting up for every game and preparing the right ways and doing the right things, it's a long season. You're on the ice every day, but you're playing hockey and it's what you love to do, so you really can't complain." 

Eichel continues to make strides on his faceoff efficiency, having won 40.8 percent. He has a 42.6 percentage in the defensive zone. 

Eichel also has no problem speaking his mind in defense of his actions. During a 4-2 win at Montreal on Feb. 3, Eichel got into a heated discussion with defenseman P.K. Subban.  

"We were both into the game, it's an emotional sport, emotional game and I guess he didn't like something I did," Eichel told Sportsnet.ca. "I tried something against someone else and he had something to say. I said something back and a couple guys on our team had something to say. 

"I usually don't engage in this stuff. Being my first year and as a 19-year-old, I want to be respectful. At the same time I'm obviously going to stand up for myself and if someone has something to say to me I usually have something to say back." 

Eichel would much prefer to do his talking on the ice, as he has all season. He made the most of an extended shift at the end of a power play at the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 26. After taking a pass from goaltender Robin Lehner in his own end, Eichel skated the length of the ice down right wing before driving hard in the circle, shielding the puck from defenseman Jared Cowen, curling the net and scoring a wraparound past goalie Craig Anderson.

Video: BUF@OTT: Eichel's impressive play ties game

 Sabres coach Dan Bylsma was impressed with the effort. Eichel remained on the ice for 2:26, well above his 51-second average per shift this season. 

"There's not a lot of guys that can do that at that point in time of their shift in the League," Bylsma told the Sabres website. 

Eichel is hoping he can remain a consistent threat for the Sabres over the second half of the season, and not for just a few games at a time.

"That's something I think I still need to get a lot better at and something I've talked to the coaches about and talked to the older guys," Eichel told BuffaloNews.com. "Just preparing for practice and making sure I take advantage every day I'm on the ice with these guys and try to get better. Then it's going to translate to the games."

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