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Oilers to rely on skill to overcome McDavid injury

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - A somber group of Oilers stepped in front of the lights and microphones during an optional practice at Rexall Place on Wednesday. The team lost a key contributor and well-liked rookie to a long-term injury the night before.

Connor McDavid will miss “months” due to a broken left clavicle he suffered in the team’s 4-2 win over Philadelphia. McDavid lost an edge and got tangled up with two Flyers players and slid into the boards.

“It just sucks,” said Oilers winger Taylor Hall. “He was a guy that was really coming on for us. Personally, and as a team, we were really feeling him in our lineup. Just bad timing all around. He’s a guy that’s going to fight through it and he’s going to come back strong. That doesn’t negate the fact that we’re going to be without a great player and a great kid for a long time.”

McDavid was admitted to the hospital after the game and is expected to undergo surgery Wednesday. The surgery will require “plates and screws” per Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli.

“Injuries happen and you have to get by them and you have to rely on your depth,” said Chiarelli. “Right now, we’re 5-8-0. Are we turned around? Not by any means. But what I’ve seen is compete and support and resiliency and coming back, so I like that. That’s progress. Connor is such a special player, and at such a young age, that it’s disappointing. Today feels like a loss. We won last night, but today feels like a loss.

“We’ll get by it. We’ve got a good staff here, we’ve got good players and there is a little bit of momentum in the progress department. We’ll build on that.”

The focus for the Oilers now turns to continuing to move bodies around and finding production despite injuries. The club has already dealt with numerous injuries to their players since pre-season, including Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Matt Hendricks, Griffin Reinhart, Lauri Korpikoski and Rob Klinkhammer. McDavid’s is slated to be the longest recovery of the bunch.

“It’s very unfortunate, obviously,” said Leon Draisaitl. “A young guy like him, the way he’s been playing and the way he’s been in the dressing room. It’s too bad. We all hope he’s back as soon as possible.”

Draisaitl is one player who will be looked upon to use the injury situation as an opportunity. The 2014 third-overall pick was recalled on October 29, and has three goals and four assists in just three games.

The 20-year-old forward’s production and his ability to play both wing, like he has been, and centre, gives the Oilers options. Eberle’s impending return also gives the Oilers another healthy body in their top six.

Whether or not they take Draisaitl off the red-hot line with Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains to be seen, but they can move pieces around if they need to and still have a lot of offensive skill up front.

“We talked this morning and we’ll continue to talk,” said Chiarelli. “Leon gives us a very good option. The struggle is you take him off maybe one of the hottest lines in the league, but as he showed in training camp and as he’s shown up here, he can play both positions. It gives us a very good option but we’ll determine that in the next little bit. Jordan Eberle is very close to coming back. He fits into the equation too.”

McDavid is currently second on the Oilers in scoring with 12 points (5-7-12) in 13 games. He is fresh off earning NHL Rookie of the Month. Replacing his production is just another form of adversity the Oilers will have to combat to be competitive.

“It’s not going to be easy by any means,” said Hall. “I’m going to give you the ‘everybody needs to chip in five or 10 percent more’ but it’s true. You’re not going to make up Connor’s skill. There’s only a few players in the world that have that skill set. Collectively, we’re going to have to be better defensively and maybe change our game a little bit.”

That being said, the Oilers have some positives going for them when it comes to offensive production. The team has scored eight goals in their last two games, despite McDavid not recording a point.

Hall and Nugent-Hopkins extended their personal point streaks to six games on Tuesday night. Hall is currently third in the NHL scoring race with 16 points (6-10-16) in 13 games. Edmonton has four of the NHL’s top 50 scorers and only one of them is McDavid.

Between Draisaitl, Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot, there is plenty of offence in the top six already. They’ll need contributions from those players and the rest of the lineup to remain competitive.

Luckily for the Oilers, McDavid will eventually be back. It’s up to the Oilers to continue to develop as a team, deal with the adversity and be competitive so that when they get their star rookie back he can help them from that point on and provide a shot of energy later in the season.

“We’ve got good players and we’re getting a good player back,” said Chiarelli. “Teams suffer catastrophic injuries and they figure it out… The guys have to step up. They’re going to miss Connor. He will be back. He’ll be like a trade acquisition when he comes back, which will be nice. You just move on.”

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