NHL

Connor McDavid, recuperating from knee injury, eyes possible return for start of Oilers camp

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid says he's "working towards" being ready for the start of training camp. The 22-year-old superstar made the comments Monday but offered little else with regard to his recovery from a left knee injury suffered during the team's regular-season finale against the Calgary Flames.

Team captain was hurt in regular-season finale

Connor McDavid says he's been skating for ‘a couple months’ and has been training with former NHLer Gary Roberts. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

The first question hurled Connor McDavid's way was always going to be about his left knee.

So was the next one. And the one after that.

The Edmonton Oilers captain bobbed and weaved as reporters probed — there were eight queries in a row related to the joint — but McDavid offered little other than to say he's "working towards" being ready for training camp, which begins in just 2 1/2 weeks.

"Progressing well ... making progress every day," the 22-year-old superstar shared vaguely of the rehab on his torn posterior cruciate ligament Monday.

So, when did he get back on the ice?

"A couple months ago."

Where does the timeline stand for him to be at 100 per cent health?

"We're just working towards getting to camp."

The questions came. McDavid was ready.

WATCH | Connor McDavid suffers scary injury vs. Flames:

Connor McDavid flew into the post at high speed, slamming his leg and requiring the trainer’s assistance to get off the ice as the Oilers played their final game of the season. 3:24

Is there a concern he won't be able to participate when the Oilers hold their first practice?

"We're just working hard to get to camp," McDavid added. "And we're focused on that."

Edmonton's talisman sent the hockey world into panic mode when he crashed into a goal post during the team's meaningless regular-season finale against the Calgary Flames in April.

McDavid — who isn't taking part in on- or off-ice activities at the annual BioSteel camp featuring a number of NHL players, including Oilers teammates Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse — appeared to mouth the words "it's broke" to a trainer as he clutched his left leg immediately after the collision.

X-rays came back negative, but the results of a subsequent MRI found a small tear in the centre's PCL that didn't require surgery. McDavid sported a brace at a June promotional event where he declined to even discuss the injury, but was walking fine Monday.

'Taken a lot of time'

"It's coming back together," McDavid, arguably the best and fastest player on the planet, said as he began his longest answer about the knee. "(You want to) make sure that it's fully healed and you're not going to get hurt again."

A two-time Art Ross Trophy winner, McDavid is training with former NHLer Gary Roberts as usual this off-season, but hasn't worked on anything other than rehab.

"It's been different," he said. "It's taken a lot of time."

The soft-spoken Newmarket, Ont., product finished second in league scoring with 116 points in 2018-19, but even that couldn't get the Oilers into the post-season as the franchise missed the playoffs for the third time in his four NHL campaigns.

To put Edmonton's top-heavy lineup into even more perspective, Draisaitl was fourth in scoring with 105 points, including 50 goals.

McDavid and his teammates will be playing for their third head coach in 11 months when Dave Tippett blows the whistle to begin camp. The Oilers also have a new general manager in Ken Holland.

The club has missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons, so is this version good enough to make a push in the Western Conference?

"That's what we're working towards," McDavid said. "We made some changes, and hopefully that works."

Apart from the coach and GM, those changes included a trade with the Oilers' provincial rivals that saw Milan Lucic and the forward's albatross of a contract dealt to Calgary for struggling winger James Neal.

Connor McDavid said Monday he's sorry to see friend and linemate Milan Lucic go. Lucic was traded to Calgary this summer. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

"Disappointing to see a good friend in (Lucic) go," McDavid said. "He was someone I got close with."

But he's also looking forward to seeing what Neal, who scored 31 goals as recently as 2015-16, can do in Edmonton after putting up just seven last season.

"He's a guy that's won a lot in this league, he's scored a lot in this league," McDavid said. "A down year last year, but he's training (with Roberts) and he's working as hard as I've ever seen."

Guarded answers

While most answers about his knee and team were guarded, McDavid offered some insight into the plethora of star unsigned restricted free agents — including Toronto's Mitch Marner and Colorado's Mikko Rantanan — with the season fast-approaching.

"It's a unique situation," McDavid said. "It'll just take one domino to fall and they'll all fall pretty quick.

"But someone's going to have to set that mark."

McDavid wasn't willing to wait when it was his turn, choosing instead to ink a US$100-million, eight-year agreement with the Oilers in the summer of 2017.

"I didn't want to be sitting here and not going to training camp," he said of his reasoning for quickly putting pen to paper. "That was my biggest fear."

Set to enter the second season of the pact that carries an annual salary cap hit of $12.5 million, McDavid added he never entertained the idea of a shorter "bridge deal" that could have carried him to unrestricted free agency sooner.

"It was a quick process," he said. "It wasn't anything we needed to wait over."

What he has been waiting for is the Oilers to turn a corner in the post-season.

They made Game 7 of the second round in 2017, but have otherwise been cleaning out lockers early since the mid-2000s.

Still, with some young players and the new additions, McDavid is optimistic.

He has to be.

"We'll have so much competition at camp," he said. "It's going to be whoever steps up and takes the job. I don't know who it will be, and it doesn't really matter as long as they can play and they're good to go."

But it also probably won't matter if No. 97 isn't good to go.

And even last season, that wasn't nearly enough.

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