Assuming the Erie Otters phenom is healthy in time, he’ll still be coming into the lineup without a lot of reps. Similar situations have reaped different results for Canada lately, but those players weren’t on McDavid’s level.
OK, so there’s a very good chance that Connor McDavid will be available to Canada for the world juniors this December: McPocalypse Now has been averted. The timeline for healing his broken hand is five to six weeks and the world juniors start in six weeks. So what can we expect from the gifted center?
Obviously there is going to be some rust on the Erie Otters captain, but even if he can’t suit up for an exhibition contest or two, he’ll have an easy transition into the tourney itself thanks to the schedule.
Canada’s first game in Montreal is against Slovakia, a team that won just once in Sweden last year and that was against Germany. Marko Dano, one of the best players on that squad, is now too old to participate and there aren’t any dramatic reinforcements coming: The under-18 team also won just once at the worlds and they too could only best the Germans.
Canada’s second opponent? Germany! How fortuitous. The Germans’ best hope is that the Edmonton Oilers release Leon Draisaitl to play for the national squad and even if that happens, he’s one player who will see a steady dose of top checkers – if for any reason Canadian coach Benoit Groulx wanted to “protect” McDavid, it wouldn’t be too difficult.
And it’s not like the kid is on an island. Buffalo prospect Sam Reinhart was the second overall pick in 2014 and he was one of Canada’s best forwards last year. He’ll be back and motivated. Winnipeg prospect Josh Morrissey will return on the back end, while Zach Fucale will make his second appearance in net. Other high-end talents available up front include Jets pick Nic Petan, Arizona prospect Max Domi and Vancouver first-rounder Jake Virtanen (and trust me, a lot of others).
Canada’s first big test will come in its third game when it hosts Finland, the squad that dashed the Canucks’ gold-medal hopes in Sweden and then decided to win it themselves one game later. But by then I believe McDavid would be acclimated.
In fact, just look at Canadian defenseman Griffin Reinhart’s experience last year: The New York Islanders prospect had to sit out the first three games of the tournament due to a suspension that was carried over from the previous world juniors and once he came back, he was one of Canada’s best players.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that Matt Dumba, the Minnesota Wild blueliner, had a much tougher tournament for the Canadians and I always wondered if the fact Minnesota kept him up in the big leagues without playing him often (he logged just 47 minutes in all of November with his last game before the world juniors coming on the 23rd) hindered his effectiveness in Sweden.
Because McDavid’s injury is confined to a small part of his body, I would think that conditioning won’t be a huge issue – he’ll still be able to skate and the kid’s talents are pretty innate. And if you’re worried about him getting his hands and mind on the same page quickly, just look at the pre-season: In Erie’s second contest of exhibition play this year, McDavid notched a hat trick, five points and a shootout goal.
So yeah, I think he’ll be fine.
Hockey Canada gave McDavid a bit role on last year’s team because the brain trust wanted him ready for the pressure of playing on home ice in Toronto, where the medal round takes place. And with a yawning gold medal drought for the national squad in the spotlight, who better to bring the glory back than a local kid?