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Oilers' McDavid presents challenge for Maple Leafs

Toronto's top line set to counter surging rookie

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

MAPLE LEAFS (19-24-9) at OILERS (21-29-5)

TV: 9 p.m. ET; SNW, TSN, NHL.TV

EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers rookie center Connor McDavid grew up idolizing the Toronto Maple Leafs and is excited to play against his hometown team for the first time Thursday at Rexall Place. 

McDavid was out with a fractured clavicle in the Oilers' first game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 30.

"I'm looking forward to it, it was obviously my team growing up, growing up in and around Toronto," said McDavid, a Richmond Hill, Ontario product. "They were the sports team I followed the most and it's going to be really cool to get a chance to play against them." 

McDavid, 19, missed 37 games after he was injured crashing into the end boards against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 3. The No. 1 selection in the 2015 NHL Draft has two goals and five assists in five games since returning to the Oilers' lineup. 

"I feel pretty good," McDavid said. "There have been some good games and some tough games as well. There is definitely some stuff to improve on, but there is a lot of good stuff to build on as well. I know I've been building a little bit of chemistry with our line [Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle], so I'm just hoping to keep that going." 

McDavid had a goal and two assists in his first game back, a 5-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 2, and has seven goals and 19 points in 18 games this season. He was named the NHL's rookie of the month for October prior to his injury and has been one of the Oilers' best players since coming back. 

"He [McDavid] is an elite player, he can really skate, has great speed through the middle and has good hockey sense," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "It looks like he's going to develop into a real good player at the National Hockey League level. I've never seen him live, so this will be my first chance. He's a good kid. I've met with him prior to the draft and he looks very exciting." 

Toronto is on a two-game losing streak and will be without center Nazem Kadri, who is out with a lower-body injury. 

Newly acquired defenseman Jared Cowen will not be in the lineup either because of tightness in his hips, according to Babcock. 

With Kadri out, Peter Holland will center Toronto's top line and is expected to go up against McDavid's line. Holland had been playing predominantly on the left wing for the Maple Leafs this season. 

"I better be ready to skate tonight," Holland said. "Some of the highlights I've seen of McDavid, he just flies and makes some great moves at full speed, makes some great passes and sees the ice well. I have to get my feet moving and make sure I'm on the defensive side of him most of the time." 

Goaltender Cam Talbot will start for the Oilers. Goalie Jonathan Bernier will start for the Maple Leafs. 

Here are the projected lineups: 


Michael Grabner - Peter Holland - Leo Komarov  

Daniel Winnik - Nick Spaling - Josh Leivo  

Colin Greening - Mark Arcobello - PA Parenteau 

Rich Clune - Byron Froese - Brad Boyes  

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly  

Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak  

Martin Marincin - Frank Corrado  

Jonathan Bernier 

James Reimer  

Injured: Nazem Kadri, (lower body), James van Riemsdyk (foot), Stephane Robidas (lower body), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Joffrey Lupul (middle body), Shawn Matthias (whiplash), Milan Michalek (broken finger), Jared Cowen (hips) 

Scratched: None 


Taylor Hall - Leon Draisaitl - Teddy Purcell  

Benoit Pouliot - Connor McDavid - Jordan Eberle 

Zack Kassian - Mark Letestu - Nail Yakupov   

Iiro Pakarinen - Matt Hendricks - Lauri Korpikoski   

Andrej Sekera - Mark Fayne  

Darnell Nurse - Justin Schultz  

Brandon Davidson - Eric Gryba  

Cam Talbot 

Laurent Brossoit  

Injured: Oscar Klefbom (lower body), Andrew Ference (hip), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (hand). 

Scratched: Adam Clendening, Anton Lander  

Status report: The Oilers assigned goaltender Anders Nilsson and recalled Brossoit from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. Brossoit will back up Talbot on Thursday, but is expected to start at some point on Edmonton's six-game homestand. … Babcock said Cowen was found to have tightness in his hips during his medical examination after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in a multi-player trade that included former Maple Leafs captain, defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Cowen took part in the morning skate and will be evaluated over the next 10 days, according to Babcock. 

Who's hot: Pouliot has two goals and four assists in his past five games. … Holland has a goal and an assist in his past three games. … Parenteau has two goals and an assist in his past three games.


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