“You don’t want to lose to your old team,” the forward said Monday. “I definitely want to beat them.
“It’s going to be weird though. When you play for the same team for a long time there are a lot of memories, including playing against guys you played with for a while.”
The game at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, ESPN+, NHL LIVE) will be the first time the 29-year-old plays his former team since signing a seven-year, $38.5 million contract ($5.5 million annual average value) on July 28.
Hyman, who was born in Toronto, played his first six NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs and scored 185 points (86 goals, 99 assists) in 345 games. Toronto was interested in re-signing him but did not have the flexibility under the NHL salary cap to make a comparable offer to the one he got from the Oilers.
Hyman missed the first game between the teams Dec. 14 because of a shoulder injury.
“I feel fine now,” he said. “You just have to reset and prepare to play them for the first time all over again.”
It’s a big game for the Oilers, too. Edmonton (18-13-2) has lost four in a row (0-2-2) and will be without center Connor McDavid, who is in COVID-19 protocol.
The Maple Leafs (21-8-2) have won three in a row, but due to COVID-19 postponements, have played one game since Dec. 14. Center Auston Matthews likely will play; he was questionable after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday. He tested negative for the virus Tuesday and was tested again Wednesday.
Hyman’s homecoming will be somewhat subdued with attendance limited to 1,000 fans due to COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario.
“It’ll be different with the COVID-19 restrictions and the new Ontario regulations that means pretty much no fans, but there’s still going to be a lot of memories flooding in,” Hyman said. “It’s my hometown. I grew up wanting to play for the Leafs and I got to live that dream.”
Playing primarily on a line with McDavid this season, Hyman has scored 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 30 games.
Hyman knows he’s lucky to play on a line with McDavid, a two-time winner of the Hart Trophy (2017, 2021), voted to the most valuable player in the NHL, and to have played on a line with Matthews, last season’s Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the leading goal-scorer in the NHL.
“I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to play with both those guys,” Hyman said. “Not many guys can say that so it’s very, very cool. And yeah, they’re very, very unique, generational-type players.”
With the game against his former team approaching, Hyman discussed the Maple Leafs, the differences in the games of McDavid and Matthews, and his time in Toronto in a Q&A with NHL.com.
You said your wife Alannah circled Dec.14 on the calendar when the schedule first came out as your first game against the Maple Leafs. Then you hurt your shoulder three days before that game and couldn’t play. How much of a roller coaster ride was that?
“My timing wasn’t great, was it? Truthfully it [stunk] having to be on the sidelines and watch that game. But I feel good now and I’m excited about the game.”
Are you going to have butterflies Wednesday?
“I’m sure I will. I’m playing against guys who were my teammates six months ago.”
Do you still keep in touch with those Toronto teammates? If so, who do you talk to the most?
“Yeah, I keep in touch with those guys a ton. I’m probably in touch with [Jason Spezza] the most, about hockey, about life things, things like that.”
What have you seen from the Maple Leafs this season?
“Obviously they got off to a slow start and everybody kind of got on them, which is usually the case. But they’ve really, really turned it around and are one of the best teams in the League so it’s going to be a big test for us.”
How do you look back on your time in Toronto and the Maple Leafs organization?
“I mean, very appreciative. They gave me a chance to get started and start my career in my hometown. Obviously it was a childhood dream and the dream of all my friends. It was very, very cool and special and it was a fun time in my life. Now onto the next chapter, and where I am in my life, Edmonton is a great spot to be.”
You’ve been linemates with McDavid with Edmonton and Matthews with Toronto. Can you break down the similarities and differences in their respective games?
“They’re both elite players obviously. They are also really different players. Auston, he can really use his shot. His release, he can do it in so many ways, whether the puck is in his feet, outside his hands. His ability to, when you get the puck to him, to get the puck off and shoot it, one of the best in the League in his ability to get the puck on and off the stick and shoot it no matter where you place it. And obviously an elite shooter, an elite goal-scorer who can do all those things really strong. He’s just a dynamic scoring centerman that can really get the puck off from any angle. And then you look at Connor and he’s just this dynamic pass-first goal-scorer where he’s able to create so many individual chances. Take guys on 1-on-1, 1-on-2, 1-on-3, whatever the case may be, and just uses his speed to create so much offense. So I think they’re very unique and different but obviously very special players.”
Have you had one of those moments with McDavid yet where you shake your head and say, “Did he just do that? Did that just happen?”
“The goal where he skated through the entire Rangers team [Nov. 5] for sure. I think just the nature of that game. It was Kevin Lowe’s number retirement night, we were down, and he goes and does that. You’re on the bench and just look at the guys beside you and you’re like, ‘Only he can make a play like that,’ 1-on-4 in a big moment to tie the game. Pretty crazy.”
Back in your Maple Leafs days, you were part of the game Jan. 6, 2020 where McDavid went end-to-end and turned Morgan Rielly around before scoring at Scotiabank Arena.
“Same type of thing. I was on the bench also and it was just like, ‘OK, that was pretty crazy.'”
How would you rank them?
“I think the Rangers one this year was the best one I’ve ever seen, just tying the game and all that stuff.”
Do you see glimpses of him doing things like that in practice?
“In the summertime he’s just at a different speed than everybody else so it’s just different speeds. You’re just in awe that he can do that.”
You and McDavid were among the players who trained with Gary Roberts during the summer. How long did it take to develop chemistry with Connor?
“The more you play with somebody, the more you get to know their tendencies and what they like to do. He’s such a unique player. I think when you have the puck and you’re trying to get it to him, you can put it into areas that normally someone wouldn’t be able to get to and he’s able to get there. So you kind of think outside the box a little bit of where to put the puck. And then when he has the puck, it’s simple, I would say: ‘Be ready at all times and try to get open.'”