EDMONTON, AB - Tonight marks the return of the Oilers season and the return of Connor McDavid to the team’s lineup.
The 2015 first-overall pick has missed the last 37 games with a broken clavicle. Tonight, he returns to play against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place. With McDavid, there’s no need to hesitate in his first game back. The rookie is fully healthy and fully cleared, with no limitations.
“My game is speed,” said McDavid. “I have to play with that, so I can’t really have any hesitation. I think you just have to trust the doctors. I think that’s the main thing. I’ve been pushing to try and play for a long time now and they wouldn’t let me because I wasn’t a hundred percent healthy. Now that that’s happened, they’re letting me play and I just have to understand they wouldn’t do that unless I was a hundred percent healthy.”
The Oilers around the room expect and offensive boost with the highly-skilled rookie returning.
“It re-engerizes us,” said Matt Hendricks. “It gives us a little, obviously, more touch. We’ve been struggling to score goals recently, so he’s going to add that offensive touch that we need. I think, for the most part, it’s just knowing Connor as a kid and as a person, we’re all happy to see him back. He’s been through a lot for his first year, with all the pressure coming into this season and such a bad injury to have happen to him. We’re just happy to have him back and knowing he’s doing what he loves doing.”
The pieces of the puzzle have come together somewhat when it has come to determining who will play with McDavid upon his return. At least to start, McDavid will centre Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle.
Head Coach Todd McLellan explained his methods to the media this morning.
“There’s probably a lot being made of ‘why isn’t Yak there?’ It’s nice to have those options, but Benny is a big, strong player when he is applying himself properly and consistently,” said McLellan. “He can open up a lot of space for those guys, and he has a good finish from the left side. With Ebs, who has a lot of experience scoring goals, and has some nice hands. I think he can be the benefactor of Connor’s play as well. In turn, I think those two need to help Connor as much as Connor is going to help them, and get Connor up and running. Obviously, there will be a focal point on 97 tonight. I just feel that those two can help him out games one, two, three and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
For Eberle and Pouliot, tonight is a change to play with a great, young player and one they’re excited about.
“You can’t complain about that,” said Pouliot. “At the beginning of the year we had success together and now we get a chance to play again together. It’s gonna be good. He’s a great player, fun to play with and he makes it easy for us out there with the way he skates, the way he handles the puck. It makes our game a little easier. We know where to be, where to go and where he’s going to be, which is nice.”
Eberle said this morning that playing with McDavid could help spark his own game.
AN OILERS DEBUT?
We could see a new face in the Oilers lineup tonight. Defenceman Justin Schultz did not participate in the morning skate today as he is ill. Brandon Davidson is close to returning from an injury, but still needs a couple days according to McLellan so that means Adam Clendening is likely to draw in on the blueline.
Clendening was claimed off waivers from Anaheim last week. The 23-year-old blueliner has played 30 NHL games and has a goal and four assists. The 2011 second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks has bounced around the league due to trades despite a very successful stint in the American Hockey League.
Should he draw in tonight, Clendening says it’s on him to keep things simple.
“Just play my game, don’t try and do too much,” he said. “Just kind of sit back and try to take in everything you can and just be a good listener. Don’t do too much and just keep the game simple to start.”
Clendening has shown a knack for quarterbacking the power play in his hockey career, which is something the Oilers are looking to add to the mix.
Cam Talbot is expected to start tonight for Edmonton.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
BLUE JACKETS (19-27-5) at OILERS (19-26-5)
TV: FS-O, SNW, SNP, SNO, NHL.TV
Season series: The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Edmonton Oilers with a pair of shootout victories in 2014-15, 5-4 in Columbus and 4-3 in Edmonton. Forward Alexander Wennberg led the Blue Jackets with three assists and scored the two shootout winners. Forward Nail Yakupov led the way for the Oilers with two goals and an assist.
Blue Jackets team scope: Goalie Anton Forsberg was recalled from the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League on Monday. He and Joonas Korpisalo have carried the load with the regular tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) and Curtis McElhinney (ankle) out with injuries. Korpisalo (2-1-1) has started the past four games, including back-to-back wins against the Montreal Canadiens last week. He made 60 saves on 64 shots in the wins against Montreal. Coach John Tortorella is expected to be back behind the bench after missing three games with broken ribs sustained in a collision with forward Rene Bourque during an outdoor practice Jan. 22. Wennberg hasn't taken a penalty in 39 games this season. This will be the start of a three-game swing through Western Canada with visits against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and Calgary Flames on Friday.
Oilers team scope: Rookie forward Connor McDavid will return Tuesday. He's been out with a fractured clavicle since Nov 3. He scored five goals and 12 points in 13 games to lead all rookies at that point. The 19-year-old was cleared for contact last month and had been skating with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL during the All-Star break. He was recalled Monday. The Oilers will have to make a roster move if McDavid plays. They also recalled forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Griffin Reinhart from Bakersfield and claimed defenseman Adam Clendening off waivers last Wednesday. The Oilers lost their last three games prior to the break.