BY MICHAEL TRAIKOS, POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Nazem Kadri was at home watching the Edmonton Oilers play the Philadelphia Flyers when his heart sank.
In the second period of a 4-2 Oilers win, rookie Connor McDavid lost his balance and slid hard into the boards after being hit by two defenders. It was sickening, said the Toronto Maple Leafs forward. The play itself might not have been dirty, but watching the league’s top rookie, a player who had star potential, get injured on a freak play hurt the league as much as much as it did the Oilers.
“You never want to see that happen, especially to a young kid,” Kadri said of McDavid, who is expected to be out for months with a fractured clavicle. “I was actually watching the game. It’s kind of breathtaking. I know what that feels like. It’s not a good feeling at all. It’s more a freak accident, I think he just lost his balance and guys tripped over him.”
While McDavid had turned the Oilers into must-watch TV for hockey fans, players almost unanimously felt the same.
“He’s generated so much attention in the last three years to the point where I’m sure guys around the league are watching to see what he does,” said Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tyler Myers, who was also watching the Oilers game. “He’s already proving that he can live up to the hype. When something like that happens to a guy who already has an influence around the league, it’s never fun to see.”
“Certainly guys are paying attention,” said Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul. “He’s a great player. He’s fun to watch, I’ve watched a couple of their games. He’s noticeably the best player on the ice at 18 years old.”
The injury hurts more because it robs the league of seeing just how many points McDavid might have scored this season. He currently leads all rookies with 12 points in 13 games, but he seemed to be getting more and more comfortable with each passing game.
After scoring just one goal and no assists in his first four games, McDavid had picked up 11 points in eight games.
“I know Connor pretty well,” said Jets forward Mark Scheifele. “It’s really disheartening to see that happen to him, because he’s such an awesome kid. He was doing so well. All you want to see is him keep getting better and showing what he can do. It’s really tough to see that.”
For the Oilers, it was nothing they have not seen before. Taylor Hall has missed 74 games due to injury in the past five seasons, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have combined to miss 68 games.
“He’s going to get hurt,” said Lupul. “Throughout his career, he’s going to get hurt. Sid’s (Sidney Crosby) gotten hurt a bunch of times and he’s came back and hasn’t really missed a beat. That’s part of hockey and something that he’ll have to deal with. But, yeah, it’s unfortunate, I like watching him play. I’m sure all the fans, it’s a big deal. Hopefully it’s a speedy recovery and he’s back as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, here are 10 rookies who could steal the Calder Trophy while McDavid is sidelined:
Max Domi, Arizona
With five goals and 11 points in 11 games, Domi had been McDavid’s biggest threat. He already has three multi-point games, but the more impressive stat is that he has been held off the scoresheet only three times this year.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo
The No. 2 overall pick has four goals in 12 games, but is still searching for his first assist. When that part of his game comes around, watch out because Eichel has the linemates and the opportunity (most ice time among rookie forwards) to be an impact player this year.
Oscar Lindberg, NY Rangers
The 24-year-old is averaging a little more than 12 minutes per game, but he is making the most of the limited opportunity. Lindberg leads all rookies with six goals in 12 games and is tied for fourth with nine points.
Artemi Panarin, Chicago
The transition from the KHL has been seamless for the top-six forward, who leads rookies with nine assists and is tied for second with 11 points in 12 games. Of course, playing on a line with Jonathan Toews helps in that regard.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg
The speedy winger, who finished his junior career with 205 points in 114 games, has come as advertised. He not only has scored four goals and nine points in 12 games, but also has been held without a point only three times this season.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit
The Red Wings are usually patient with their young players, but the 19-year-old Larkin changed that rule. And with good reason. Larkin has four goals and nine points in 12 games, including two-game winners.
Jared McCann, Vancouver
Times are changing in Vancouver, where four rookies have been integrated into the lineup. McCann has so far been the most impressive. Though he is still without an assist, his five goals lead the Canucks.
Sam Bennett, Calgary
Following in the footsteps of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau is never easy, but Bennett seems capable of handling the pressure. It took him nine games to score his first goal of the season, but with two goals and seven points he is someone worth watching.
Colton Parayko, St. Louis
Defencemen always have a difficult time of winning the Calder, because voters tend to be more fixated on points. But like Aaron Ekblad last year, Parayko is impressing offensively with four goals and seven points and is also logging a rookie-high 20 minutes.
Mike Condon, Montreal
With Carey Price out with a lower-body injury, Condon has gone 4-0-1 with a .941 save percentage. Price will eventually return, but in the meantime the rookie netminder is making a case he can handle more than the odd start.