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Silver lining of McDavid missing Oilers game would be ‘elevated’ roles for teammates

Potentially losing the captain to injury would “be a big blow to any team,” says one of the Edmonton Oilers’ top-pairing defencemen.

But Mattias Ekholm said that while the prospect of superstar Connor McDavid being sidelined for Wednesday night’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights is not ideal, the timing of it could be good for his Oilers teammates.

“When the guy that eats that kind of minutes, when the guy that has that kind of impact on your team is not playing, then it’s up to other guys to step up,” said Ekholm, who typically patrols the Oilers blueline alongside Evan Bouchard.

“But right before the playoffs for guys to get a push on the ice time, maybe get their role elevated a little bit, can be a good thing for them as well.”

On Tuesday, Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch said McDavid — a three-time winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player and five-time scoring leader considered by many to be the best hockey player in the world — is ‘day-to-day’ after he missed practice due to a combination of “lower-body” and “maintenance” issues.

Knoblauch told media on Wednesday after the team’s morning skate that a decision on whether McDavid will play against Vegas will come closer to game time.

“I think Connor knows what the big picture is,” Knoblauch said.

“I believe that he is competitive and wants to contribute as much as possible and not take himself out of the lineup, but I think he understands where our team is at and also where his body is at and what we’re looking for in the future.”

With six games left in the Oilers’ regular-season schedule, McDavid — who missed two games earlier this season — sits third in the NHL scoring race with 130 points, 99 of them assists, nine points behind leader Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven back of second-place Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

McDavid would be the fourth player in NHL history to reach the 100-assist milestone if he nets one more — only legends Wayne Gretzky (11 times), Mario Lemieux (once) and Bobby Orr (once) have achieved the mark. Kucherov, with 96 assists, too, is within striking distance of the mark.

One player whose role would likely change notably if McDavid misses Wednesday’s game is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the one-time first-overall draft pick whose role on the Oilers has evolved from being top-line centre to top-six two-way forward, playing often on McDavid’s wing.

Before McDavid arrived in Edmonton, he was a focal point of the power play, and with No. 97 perhaps sitting out against Vegas, Nugent-Hopkins would probably assume a different role when the Oilers have the man advantage.

“I might touch it a little more on my side, but I don’t think it’ll be a huge difference,” he told media.

“Maybe I’ll be lugging the puck up on the breakout, so I guess that’s a little different — I’ve got to go all the way back there if it gets dumped out, but other than that, I usually play outside or I go to the middle. Probably the same thing tonight.”

Nugent-Hopkins said McDavid’s speed and ability to process the game quickly makes him “the best in the league” in leading the rush on the power play.

“There’s definitely a skill to it,” he said.

“I’ve done a little bit in the past, probably won’t be bringing it up with quite as much speed, but I’ll try to just get in.

“I think that’s the important part is get in and get set but I’ve done in the past and obviously Leon (Draisaitl) is on the other side so he’s used to doing that but it shouldn’t be a huge adjustment.”

Holloway draws in

Knoblauch said Dylan Holloway will play against Vegas after he was called up Tuesday from the Oilers’ minor-league affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif.

“The biggest thing is being hard to play against, not giving up chances defensively, and also with his attributes of being fast, physical, he’s a very strong player, very athletic,” Knoblauch said of the 22-year-old winger who scored a hat-trick in his most recent game with the AHL Condors.

“That’s hard for a defenceman to chase down pucks and break it out when you know a guy like that’s coming in on you.”

Holloway, who has three goals and an assist in 32 NHL games this season, had been sent to Bakersfield with fellow forward Sam Gagner a month ago following the Oilers’ acquisition of Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick from the Anaheim Ducks. 

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