Seventeen year old Connor McDavid is expected to be the first overall pick in next year's NHL Entry Draft. The Erie Otters center has 16 goals and 35 assists in just 18 games this season.
So when he fractured his hand during a fight in a game against Mississauga this week, pro teams gunning for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to draft McDavid collectively held their breath hoping that their future franchise player would be okay.
Thanks to new, space-age technology, they don't have to worry for at least the rest of this season.
McDavid will be encased in a protective bubble for the remainder of Erie's schedule, the Otters announced today, keeping their star player safe until he can be selected by one of the NHL's worst teams next June. The spherical bubble will be made of an elastic polymer (or "elastomer") comprised of 14 different types of plastics and reinforced by microthin fibers that can move with McDavid while he skates but will be impervious to damage from blades, sticks, boards, bullets, fire, poisons or other on-ice dangers.
"Connor is a great kid and this is a necessary precaution to ensure his safety," said chemist Dr. Robin MacMurray of MapleSoft, Canada's leading producer and innovator of cutting edge sports technology. "Our bubble has a lot riding on its springy, indestructible structure."
McDavid threw punches with Mississauga's Bryson Cianfrone in the Otters' 4-0 win on Tuesday, and could miss significant time both at Erie and the World Junior Championship tournament that Canada was counting on him to participate in. Whenever he returns to the ice, he'll go right into the bubble.
MacMurray would not divulge who paid for the bubble's conception and construction, only that MapleSoft's benefactors have a vested interest in making sure McDavid finishes his last year in junior hockey safely and graduates to the NHL next season.
"Connor will absolutely be a superstar. Many people want to see him in the pros. Let's just say one of those entities was very instrumental in funding this bubble so that he can make it in one piece."
Because of the bubble's breathable skin, McDavid will be able to skate inside of it but he won't be able to shoot, pass or play the puck as effectively as he could before. While it might cap his stats at where they are now, the lack or production shouldn't hurt his draft position, according to proven NHL prospect hounds.
"McDavid is the first overall pick, bubble or no bubble," says Kyle Woodlief, who writes USA Today's scouting review, The Red Line Report. "He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone.
"In fact, being inside the bubble can only increase his draft profile by showing that he can play within tight quarters and be a humble, team-first leader under extreme pressure."
In a tough sport like hockey, putting a highly-talented player inside of a bouncy egg to protect him from opponents might seem like a cowardly way out. But Murray disagrees and says that toughness can be measured many ways beyond just physical contact that could potentially delay or otherwise affect a youngster's promising career.
"Players like Connor don't need to fight to show their worth," MacMurray said. "I played so I know. Toughness, both mental and physical, is a part of the game. No one wants to put players inside of bubbles.
"But getting drafted by one of the NHL's sorriest teams and enduring season after season of endless, depressing losses week after week, month after month and praying that at least one of your teammates could help you out just once so you can experience a fleeting minute of joy also takes a superhuman amount of toughness. Connor deserves to face that challenge at full strength."
This is fake. No one's putting anyone inside of a bubble. Sorry, Sabres fans.