After suffering through significant injuries to Ben Eager, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Corey Potter, Andy Sutton, Ryan Whitney, and Cam Barker (though that isn't suffering), things got even worse for Edmonton when Taylor Hall went down with a separated shoulder on November 26th.
The same day, the Oklahoma City Barons lost Teemu Hartikainen to the same injury. As our resident internet physiotherapist doogie told us, Hall suffered an acromioclavicular sprain, likely a grade I sprain. Hartikainen's likely suffered the same grade I sprain, though slightly more severe.
Given the injury struggles the franchise has faced since 2006, imagining the worst-case scenario for both young wingers would be the safest way to form realistic expectations. But then the Oilers got some good news for a change. Hall's initial diagnosis was a mild sprain and 2-4 weeks on the injured list, Hartikainen's a mild sprain and 3-6 weeks on the injured list. If everything were to go as planned, those timelines placed Hall's return somewhere between the Battle of Alberta on December 10th and the Boxing Day battle at Vancouver. Hartikainen's return should come some time between the December 17th home game versus the Houton Aeros and the January 8th game in Hamilton. The safe estimate, again, would be the tail side of both timelines.
As shocking as it may be, both men are beating the odds. As Hall told a national audience on Hockey Night in Canada during intermission of the Battle of Alberta, he's close to a return. He's still in the non-contact sweater, but he's been practicing since December 7th and aggressively so. He's pain free and should return to contact drills this week for a possible return Saturday at San Jose or a more dramatic home return against Detroit on the 19th.
Hartikainen is not far behind. Word out of Oklahoma City is that Hartikainen has been cleared to practice this week, and though he'll also work in the non-contact sweater, he's on track to return to the lineup December 27th against Rochester at the Cox Center. Like Hall, Hartikainen is reportedly pain-free and feeling no ill-effects from the injury, having regained full range of motion.
My understanding, confirmed by a former AT, is that while ligaments never quite heal to 100%, the AC joint is pretty stable compared to sites noted for recurrent injury like the knee, ankle, and glenohumeral joint. This ultimately means that if he does have another shoulder separation, even a more severe one, it's unlikely to be due to inherent joint destabilization and more likely due to his style of play.
For the Oilers and Barons this is tremendous news. Both left wingers are the heart and soul of their teams and the engines in the their respective offenses. The Oilers have struggled put the puck on net all year long and the Barons have scored only 14 goals in the six games since Hartikainen was injured, including three games with just a single goal. The return of the organization's left wing depth will be a wonderful holiday gift to fans of both teams.