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the prospect

Connor McDavid never envisioned he would return to the hotbed of hockey while nursing an injury that will keep him sidelined until at least January.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Absent from the lineup but not far from mind, Connor McDavid created a stir on Monday in his first visit to Toronto as an Edmonton Oiler.

While his teammates participated in a morning skate, the 18-year-old with a patched-up clavicle entertained questions from newsmen in a room down a winding hall beneath Air Canada Centre.

Gathered in a circle as tight as a school of sardines, a pack of 50 journalists surrounded him. There were so many that one videographer had to climb atop a table to get an unobstructed view.

McDavid was in the house, and so was No. 4. It is not every day that Bobby Orr pays a visit to pregame exercises in Toronto, but he was watching from the stands at one end of the ice, occasionally rising to pose for pictures with fans.

McDavid never envisioned he would return to the hotbed of hockey while nursing an injury that will keep him sidelined until January at least. Later, he watched from a suite as the Oilers took on the Maple Leafs in the first of two meetings this season.

"This hurts a lot," McDavid said. "This is a building that I grew up with, and I have seen a lot of games here. I wanted to play. It's tough, but it is what it is."

McDavid was hurt during a game in Edmonton on Nov. 3. He had just been named the NHL's rookie of the month for October. There was a lot of excitement cresting in the wake of his arrival as hockey's most-talked-about prospect since Sidney Crosby.

It's gone now, or at least deferred.

"I was just starting to feel comfortable," he said.

The Oilers have won only three times since he crashed awkwardly into the boards beneath a couple of Philadelphia Flyers. It has been nine years since the Oilers last made the NHL playoffs.

"It is a big hit for us," Todd McLellan, the Oilers' first-year coach, said. "We think Connor was [already] one of our top players despite his age. You take one of the top young players away from any team, and it hurts.

"He was a catalyst who provoked real strong play from his teammates. Some of those others … are just finding their way back now."

The Oilers won Saturday in Pittsburgh for the first time in six years. The night before, they collected a hard-earned point in an overtime loss in Detroit. A victory over the Leafs would be their first in Toronto in five years.

There is hope, even if McDavid's season has been derailed.

"We seem to be finding ways to lose games," McDavid said.

Addressing the media after the Leafs morning workout, Mike Babcock said he sees Edmonton as being ahead of his rebuilt team.

"I don't think we are similar at all," he said, in a pause between being peppered with questions about his team's goalkeeping – Garret Sparks, who was just called up from the American Hockey League, was about to make his first NHL start.

"They have a lot of great young players, and one of the best guys in all of hockey, but he isn't playing tonight."

He was not, but he was far from forgotten.

And McDavid will be back again.

"Maybe for the World Cup," he said hopefully, referring to the international hockey competition that will be staged here beginning in September, 2016.

Down the long hallway, past black-and-white photos of Pat Burns, Conn Smythe and one of Punch Imlach sipping champagne with his feet atop of a desk beside the Stanley Cup in 1963, the swarm of newsmen had gathered.

"How long do you think we will have with Connor?" one asked. "Ten, 20, or 40 minutes."

In less than 10 minutes, he was gone.