Blackhawks in awe of Connor McDavid's miraculous offseason recovery

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Connor McDavid is the best hockey player in the world and on a first-ballot Hall of Fame trajectory. But a major injury in the final game of the 2018-19 season could have put the rest of his career in doubt.

On April 6, 2019, McDavid flew through the neutral zone like he always does, drove hard to the net and was tripped by Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano before crashing into the post and knocking the net off its moorings. McDavid immediately grabbed his left leg and the arena went silent.

“It’s broken,” television cameras caught McDavid mouthing to his trainer.

The official diagnosis? A full tear to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Tears in both the lateral and medial meniscus. The popliteus muscle was completely torn off the bone. The back of his knee joint lining was also torn. Plus, a bone bruise and crack in front of his tibia. 

Reconstructive surgery would have been a 10-plus month rehab and required internal implements, such as screws and anchors, to increase stability in his knee. But McDavid decided against it and went through "one of the most advanced non-surgical rehabilitation programs ever attempted by a star player," which was chronicled by Sportsnet in a 60-minute documentary titled, "Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes."

Not only did he make a full recovery, but McDavid was cleared to play in the season opener on Oct. 2 and scored the game-winning goal. He didn't skip a beat and is better than ever.

Drake Caggiula, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome were all teammates with McDavid at one point. None of them have seen the documentary yet, but they had an idea of what was going on even though McDavid's camp kept the severity of his injury a secret — including to some in the organization, most notably GM Ken Holland, who was hired in May.

"It's just weird because no one knew how serious it was because it was the last game of the year," Strome told NBC Sports Chicago. "Imagine if that was Game 10 of the year, it would've been way different and there would've been other people having outside influences, the media would've said stuff and blah blah blah.

"I think it's a blessing in disguise — you obviously don't want anyone to ever get hurt — but he got hurt at kind of the right time, after the season, and had the whole time to recover and made it back for Game 1 of the season. It's pretty impressive and thankfully he's healed up. I know he's still doing a lot of work on it to keep it where it needs to be, but he doesn't look to slow out there."

McDavid has showed no signs of tentativeness. He ranks second in the league with 95 points through 61 games and is on pace to surpass his career-high point total of 116 from last season.

"It's crazy to see him playing the way he is even after something like that," DeBrincat said. "He's a guy that never wants to be out and is always going to do whatever he can to come back, so I think that's why it worked out for him.

"Crazy to think how one injury could possibly ruin your career. It's tough to think about. You never want to see anyone in the league go through that, but it's crazy it took a summer for him to come back and feel good enough to play in games and do what he did in the games and he's still at the top of the league in points. He's always one of the best in the league when he's out there."

Caggiula trained with McDavid over the summer. In fact, their stalls were right next to each other at the gym. 

Caggiula couldn’t grasp the idea how a surgical procedure could’ve altered the course of McDavid’s career. And neither can we.

"Oh man, at 22 years old, you never want to see someone go through a major surgery like that, especially if they don't have to," Caggiula said. "He's got a long, long career ahead of him and probably going to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. You're happy to see that he's recovered and recovered fully from this injury. It's an incredible story and I'm glad to see he's doing well."

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