Preview: Wild vs. Oilers
The 10th game of the season isn’t just a trivial yardstick for the progress of Connor McDavid.
If he takes the ice Tuesday night in Minnesota, the 18-year-old’s entry-level contract kicks in, a minor league club can stop hanging onto hope for a drastic spike in attendance, and the Edmonton Oilers figure to be dealing with a significantly higher salary cap hit a year earlier when the initial deal expires.
Reporting that McDavid will in fact remain with the Oilers (3-6-0) is the trivial part because the play of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft has made the decision nothing more than a formality.
"We can clarify that," coach Todd McLellan joked to the team’s official website of the decision. "It’s made."
McDavid has five goals and four assists in his last seven games and a five-game point streak after notching an assist in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Los Angeles, giving him the team goals and points lead with his NHL stay about to become permanent.
"If you look at it in a nine-game perspective, you start on the road in some tough buildings, the team plays well enough to be in games but doesn’t win," McLellan said. "He feels a lot of pressure on himself because he hasn’t scored.
"Finally, he gets one and gives himself permission, I believe, to really get going. He’s been a dynamic player ever since. He’s dangerous every time he’s on the ice. I think he’s getting much wiser to the pace and what he can and can’t get away with. It’s fun to watch him. He energizes a lot of our players right now."
That hasn’t been enough in consecutive losses following a three-game winning streak, but much of that has fallen on the defensive end and goaltending with 10 goals allowed.
The Wild, meanwhile, have been strong offensively with 3.00 goals per game led by Zach Parise’s seven, though they faltered on the other end in Sunday’s 5-4 loss in Winnipeg.
The Wild (5-2-1) are beginning a span of five of six in Minnesota, but the schedule gets difficult after the Oilers with Chicago visiting and a trip to St. Louis before returning home to face Nashville, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.
Both teams figure to prefer their No. 1 goaltenders after recent struggles from backups, though Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk is dealing with knee pain.
Darcy Kuemper gave up four goals on 18 shots against the Jets before being replaced by Dubnyk. The former Edmonton goalie took the loss after Minnesota tied the game, but he has a 1.14 goals-against average over a 2-1-0 span. He doesn’t see the ailment as something that’ll disrupt his season, though coach Mike Yeo isn’t certain he’ll play.
"I’m told that I’m not supposed to be worried about it," Yeo told the team’s official website. "I’ve been assured that it shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll make sure that he gets the treatment that he needs, and certainly we’ll look at the big picture. If there is any risk of him damaging this further, then he won’t be in the net."
Dubnyk faced the Oilers three times after arriving in Minnesota in January from Arizona, going 2-1-0 with a 1.01 GAA.
Edmonton newcomer Cam Talbot started against the Kings after replacing Anders Nilsson in a 7-4 home loss to Washington on Friday. Talbot is 2-1-0 with a 2.03 GAA in his last four games, and he’s 1-1-0 with a 1.52 GAA against the Wild.
Minnesota won two of three against the Oilers last season and has taken 17 of 23 in the series.
Edmonton’s Justin Schultz is expected to miss the game with an undisclosed injury suffered against the Kings. Fellow defenseman Griffin Reinhart (undisclosed) is nearing a return but won’t face Minnesota.