Sean Monahan: More cautionary tale than guiding light for Leon Draisaitl


Sean Monahan is likely, at some point, to be a very good NHL player.

He wasn’t one last season. And if Leon Draisaitl has a rookie campaign comparable to Monahan’s, the Oilers will be in serious trouble.

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Monahan’s Rookie Year

My assessment of Monahan’s rookie year is doubtless controversial; he scored 22 goals and went 5-for-8 in the shootout. Most people would call that awfully good production for a 19-year-old rookie – and they’d be right. Hockey, however, is about more than offensive production.

Fourteen forwards finished the year with the Flames and played in at least 20 games along the way. Let’s look at how Monahan compared to that group in some key areas:

Statistic Total Fwd. Rk. Notes
Rel. Corsi -8.0 11 Lance Bouma and two enforcers trailed
QualComp -0.32 11 Sven Baertschi and two enforcers trailed
Zone Start 55.0 5 Baertschi, Hudler and the enforcers ahead

In other words, Monahan played against lousy opponents, got a zone start push from his coach, and his team still got beat like a rented mule in the shots department when he was on the ice. That’s not definitive, but it’s interesting.

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Maybe his linemates played a role. Let’s look at their Corsi totals with and without him (min. one hour together at five-on-five):

Player Mins.  Corsi w/ Corsi w/o Difference
Joe Colborne 397 43.4 46.9 -3.5
Jiri Hudler 364 44.0 48.3 -4.3
Sven Baertschi 221 44.1 40.7 3.4
Mike Cammalleri 163 47.8 51.4 -3.6
Curtis Glencross 131 33.8 45.6 -11.8
Lee Stempniak 117 49.8 47.1 2.7
Paul Byron 113 46.4 51.4 -5.0
Lance Bouma 100 40.7 43.9 -3.2

Well, that’s a pretty decent list of linemates, and for the most part they were much better off playing with not-Monahan than they were playing with Monahan. Plus/minus is always a debatable statistic, but in this case it appears that Monahan’s minus-20 (worst among forwards who finished the year with the team) is a pretty accurate measure of what his line was doing at five-on-five in 2013-14.

But, wait, there’s more! Monahan’s 22 goals in 2013-14 came on just 140 shots; he had a 15.7 shooting percentage. That’s high, and it’s especially worth noting because it wasn’t like Monahan was scoring because he was planted in front of the net on the power play – only three of his goals came with the man advantage. According to BehindtheNet (which includes missed shots in its calculation) only eight NHL forwards were more likely to score on an unblocked shot at five-on-five than Monahan was last year.

Maybe he’s a truly elite finisher, but maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see, though it’s telling that he was known more as a playmaker in junior.

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Draisaitl, Leon

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Draisaitl is entering training camp with pretty massive expectations that he produce immediately, and a decent chance that he finds himself in a somewhat difficult role (we talked about the Oilers’ matchup options the other day). If he ends up playing the way Monahan did as a rookie, it would be disastrous for Edmonton’s season.

The Oilers cannot afford to play a line that gets destroyed the way the Flames did every time Monahan was on the ice last year. The point totals here are a secondary concern; the important thing is that Draisaitl can tread water or at least get close to it in a top-nine role.

It’s a tall order for a rookie, but Draisaitl has some advantages on Monahan, including size and a better scoring run in his draft year. With that said: Monahan’s struggles are an excellent reminder of the dangers of the gamble that the Oilers are taking at centre.


  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s okay to not be the best in your first professional year, if you’re playing in the best league in the world.

    The struggles Monahan suffered through last season far outweigh lighting up a bunch of kids in junior. In Sean and Leons case, the sooner they get that first years experience under their belt, the better. One could argue Sean was better than 7 yr veteran Sam Gagner. Both a near .5 pt a game player,

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I hope Sam Bennett gets that learning curve/first season under his belt this year.

    I’m not saying but I’m just going to say….that kid is the exact same size and build/shoulders as one Gordon Howe.

    A couple generations removed no doubt, but the resemblance is uncanny. Looking very much forward to seeing if he can play. Show us why Central scouting had him rated 1st overall.

    • J.R.

      Your comparison of Bennet to Howe is certainly surprising. One of Howe’s greatest attributes was his size and strength. By today’s standards Howe would be about average size but in his day he was “the big guy”.

      Bennet has been described as a “Doug Gilmore” type. i.e. not big but quick and tenacious. Are you sure you are talking about the same Sam Bennet?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        True that.

        I just meant his physical attributes. Height and weight at 18 yrs old. along with those pyramid sloped shoulders he has. Not comparing his yet to be determined on ice play to that of Mr. Hockey.

    • Zarny

      Gordie Howe was 6′ 205 lb in an era where the average F was 185 lbs. He was incredibly strong with broad shoulders.

      Sam Bennett is 6′ 180 lbs in an era where the average F is 6’1 205 lbs. He has skinny shoulders and is not incredibly strong.

      That comparison is flat out silly.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I can excuse you speaking without knowing much about this topic. Not sure how old you are but having seen Howe practice/play up close a couple dozen times (Houston Aeros/Hartford Whalers) I’ve stood next to him while waiting for him to sign a stick he gave me as a teenager. I remember thinking as he headed back into the dressing room his unique nose and the almost unnatural slope to his shoulders.

        I find it difficult to fathom you have the knowledge he held his 205 lbs frame from day 1 and for the near 4+ decade career as a player. He never entered the league with an even slighter frame. Are you sure he wasn’t 15lbs lighter when he first entered the NHL as a young man in his early twenties?

        I don’t feel the physical similarity comparison is much of a reach at all, for someone in his late teens and a young man who must’ve been barely 20… 60 yrs ago. Your opinion appears as silly to me as you thought mine was. Are you old enough to have seen any pre 1990 NHL hockey?

  • Zarny


    Monahan is a cold blooded sniper?

    Surely you jest. I don’t think he had one G last year that would be described as “sniping”.

    What Monahan did display was what Last Big Bear alluded to…a willingness to crash the net and go to the hard areas of the ice like Ryan Smyth used to do.

    Which I don’t think you can really teach or coach. My experience has been an affinity for contact and violence or trying to avoid is innate by the time you are 19 y/o.

    Monahan is an excellent young player. As Mr. Willis stated if he was a UFA 30 out of 30 teams would be interested. That’s easy to say while also acknowledging that by a lot of metrics he got punished by NHL competition last year.

    Which is a lesson the Oilers should learn from since they seem incapable of learning from their own mistakes.

    • Burnward

      Only took me 17 seconds to find one. A couple more in there as well. He did score quite a few from in close, which also explains his high shooting percentage.

      Can’t find his shootout efforts, but they were similar.

      This kid was something special last year and will probably continue to be.

      Hartley summed him up best, “19 going on 30.”

      • Zarny

        Good grief, I can’t link Youtube from the office but it took me less than 17 seconds to find all of Sean Monahan’s goals from last year.

        He had a few where he made nice shots from about 8-10 ft away. I don’t consider that “sniping” considering there was zero traffic in front of the net but if you do fair enough.

        The overwhelming majority of Monahan’s goals were exactly like his first one. He crashed the net and got a redirection or an easy tap in from 2 feet away.

        Like I said, Monahan is an excellent young player but he’s no Steven Stamkos.

        And it’s not even close.

  • ~Never mind the unsustainable shooting percentage… how about that get up he wore to stampede….. theres a level of clueless built into that decision that is simply astounding.~

    His mom likely wanted him to sport a button that said… I dressed myself.


  • Zarny

    @Joy S. Lee

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the moves MacT has made but I think you have to be realistic about how much the roster has actually improved.

    Purcell is at best a marginal upgrade to Hemsky. Purcell had better possession numbers last year, but Hemsky actually finished with 43 PT vs Purcell’s 42 PT and played against better competition with worse zone starts. That trade off is very close to a wash.

    Pouliot will be an upgrade to Smyth but again it’s marginal and we’re talking about the 3rd line. And if Pouliot’s zone starts go from 57.8% to the 36.1% Smyth saw last year the upgrade may be very marginal.

    There are a lot of assumptions that Arcobello will be better than Gagner’s absolute worst season. I’m not sure that helps the Oilers one bit. Especially if he ends up not being better than Gagner’s worst season.

    The D are better than last year but that isn’t saying much. Fayne and Nikitin are not Seabrook and Keith. They’ve gone from an abundance of 3rd pairing D to a collection of 2nd pairing D. It’s very possible the D are better and still struggle.

    The G will certainly be better than the first 21 games last year but I don’t think you can count on it being a lot better than Yakupov’s rookie season. Dubnyk had a 0.920 SV% during the lockout year. Scrivens had a 0.916 SV% with the Oilers last year.

    Overall, I don’t see the Oilers roster as being considerably better than last year. The D and G should be a bit better but the F could be a wash. I doubt the Oilers start 4-15-2 which gets them up to ~ 77 PT. Beyond that will be tough gains. 87-88 PT is probably a better case scenario with 77-80 PT being entirely possible. That doesn’t move the needle in the standings very far.

  • Derzie

    One stat that is not detailed here is ‘hockey smarts’. Monahan has it in spades. Every goal was him being in the right place at the right time. That resulted in a very high shooting %. I suspect it will drop but I also expect it to be above average. Smarts are something that can’t be learned. The rest of his game will grow. I expect the sheltering and tilted ice for 3-5 years for sure. Without the smarts, he would have been sent down after 10. Time to see what puts Leon where after 10. I hope he gets sent down. The Oilers seem to have never done that with a top draft pick (recently anyway).

  • beloch

    Flames fan here (and of the Oilers when they’re not playing the Flames).

    Monahan was known for his strong two-way play in junior, but it’s pretty unusual for an 18-year-old kid to be able to drive possession in the NHL. The fact that he needed a lot of shelter and didn’t finish as a Corsi leader should surprise absolutely noone. The good news is that he did progress over the course of the season, receiving less shelter and improving in leaps and bounds possesion wise. He was still pretty far from driving the bus at the end of the season though!

    Is his shooting percentage unsustainable? It’s impossible to know. The kid definitely has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. Great brain. However, he’s not a highlight-reel finishing skill kind of guy. As such, many predict his scoring will regress this season. Hopefully he’ll start picking up more assists to compensate.

    The lesson for the Oilers is pretty clear. The odds are heavily stacked against an 18 year old coming into the NHL, direct from Junior, and being a solid possesion player. Even Nathan Mackinnon was somewhat sheltered and not a positive corsi player. It’s not impossible that Draistl will hold his head above water, but it is exceedingly unlikely. It is far more probable that, even with heavy ammounts of shelter and strong linemates, Draistl will be a net impediment to his team’s play.

    The only defense for keeping Monahan in the NHL last season was player development. It was thought he’d learned all he could in the OHL but, since he was not allowed to play in the AHL and the Flames were in no danger of making the playoffs last season, he was given the chance to learn in the big league. If playing in the NHL is considered to be what is best for Draistl’s development, this may be true for him as well. However, don’t expect him to “save the team”! Sheltering 18-year old rookies is a considerable drain on team resources.