Future (Restricted) Free Agents: Leon Draisaitl

With a three-point performance last night in Philadelphia, Leon Draisaitl upped his season total to 25 points, good for 15th in the league and second in the Pacific Division behind only teammate Connor McDavid. 

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This is an excellent sign for the Oilers, obviously, because Draisaitl is producing like the player the organization hoped he would become when they drafted him with the third overall pick back in 2014. But with Draisaitl’s entry-level contract coming to an end this summer, the team is quickly going to have to determine whether or not he’s done enough to warrant a long-term contract.  

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How good is he? 

Since entering the league in 2014, Draisaitl has scored 33 goals and 52 assists in 138 games, good for a 0.62 point-per-game pace. If you take away his rookie season in which he was only on the team because Craig MacTavish couldn’t be bothered to assemble a roster with actual NHL veteran depth, that number jumps to a very impressive 0.75 points-per-game.

This definitely looks like a player you’d want to lock up to a long-term contract. But slow down for a second. Draisaitl has produced at a very impressive clip, but he’s also spent his career playing with some incredibly talented forwards. Is he the one driving the team’s success when he’s on the ice? Or is he just the benefactor? 

Over the past two seasons, when adjusting for score and zone, the Oilers are taking 52.2 per cent of the total shot attempts when Draisaitl is on the ice. Unlike most high-level offensive producers, his +2.7 relative Corsi For percentage is the result of the team generating more shot attempts for and fewer against when he’s on the ice than when he isn’t. 

With other high-level producers, you usually see that positive relative shot attempt figure driven by simply Corsi For, as the team opens up the game and gives a little bit up defensively in order to produce offence. But in Draisaitl’s case, he isn’t giving up too much defensively while still managing to help the team generate shot attempts for, which is impressive for a player his age. 

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Also, when breaking down Draisaitl’s with you and without you stats from the past couple seasons, you see a player who drives offence. Draisaitl had a good time playing with Taylor Hall last season, as the pair scored 2.80 goals per hour at even strength and put up a 51.6 Corsi For percentage when playing together. But apart, while Draisaitl isn’t scoring at the same rate, he boasts a 52.5 Corsi For percentage, suggesting he wasn’t just being dragged around by Hall. 

So, overall, we have a player who’s producing at a high level, has the shot attempt numbers to suggest it’s legitimate, and, based on splits with and without linemates, is clearly not just along for the ride. 

How much will he cost? 

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If you want to figure out what a long-term contract for the former third overall pick will look like, you don’t have to look very far. Over the past year, three forwards from the 2013 draft were signed to long-term deals right after their entry-level contracts. How convenient! 

Aleksander Barkov, 2013’s second overall pick, was given a six-year extension in January with an annual cap hit of $5.9 million. Over the summer, Nathan MacKinnon and Sean Monahan, the first and sixth overall picks, were given seven-year deals worth $6.3 and $6.35 million respectively. 

How does Draisaitl stack up against those guys? 

  • Barkov scored 52 goals and 67 assists in 191 games (0.62 PPG) in his first three seasons. He also finished sixth in Selke Trophy voting last season. 
  • Monahan scored 80 goals and 79 assists in 237 games (0.67 PPG) in his first three seasons. 
  • MacKinnon scored 59 goals and 94 assists in 218 games (0.70 PPG) in his first three seasons. He also won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season. 

Like I mentioned earlier, Draisaitl has scored  33 goals and 52 assists in the first 135 games (0.62 PPG) of his career. And if you take away the putrid rookie season he had when he was unnecessarily thrown into the deep end with cinderblocks attached to his legs, Draisaitl is scoring at a 0.75 point-per-game pace. So if everything continues as it’s going right now, Draisaitl’s long-term contract would realistically land in a similar ballpark to the aforementioned top of the 2013 draft class. 

But that 37-game rookie season is important in this situation, so we can’t just ignore it. Even though Draisaitl played the nine NHL games necessary to cost the Oilers one year off of his entry-level deal, he didn’t reach the 40-game threshold for it to count as an accrued professional season. That means, unlike Barkov, Monahan, and MacKinnon who jumped in and stuck immediately, Draisaitl still has five more years of control after this one before he can hit unrestricted free agency. 

With the other three comparables, their teams were only eating through four years of control, whereas the Oilers have five more to work with. So while Draisaitl is producing at the same rate as those players who were locked up to similar long-term deals immediately after their entry-level contracts came to an end, he has slightly less leverage. 

It’s difficult to find a contract comparable for a player in Draisaitl’s exact situation. Teams don’t usually allow a player to stay in the NHL beyond the nine-game threshold and then send them down before the 40-game one rolls around. So while Draisaitl’s ELC is going to be finished, he’s essentially in the same situation in regards to UFA status as someone who spends one year in junior before after being drafted before breaking into the NHL. 

What should the Oilers do? 

This is where it gets a little bit difficult. 

Virtually every decision Peter Chiarelli and Co. make from here on out has to be done with Connor McDavid in mind. McDavid is producing at the pace everyone dreamed he would when the Oilers drew those magic numbers back a couple years ago, and is eligible for an extension this summer. He still has one more year left on his entry-level deal, but, starting in 2018-19, McDavid is going to be getting paid. 

So what do you do with Draisaitl? Sign him to a bridge contract at a reasonably manageable cap hit? Or do you just bite the bullet and sign the contract now, like the team did with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back in the summer of 2012? 

If he’s given a bridge deal, you’re taking the risk of him breaking out and commanding an even bigger annual salary on a long-term as he nears complete free agency. That’s what happened with P.K. Subban in Montreal. They could have signed him long-term, they didn’t, gave him a two-year bridge deal instead, and he went on to win the Norris Trophy and command a $9 million cap hit on his long-term contract. But on the other side of that, the Sabres gave Cody Hodgson a long-term deal after his entry-level contract expired, and then had to buy him out after two forgettable seasons. Closer to home, you could also argue pretty easily that neither Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins has lived up to those $6 million contracts  

Like I said, every decision has to be made with McDavid in mind. Not very long from now, McDavid is going to command a massive salary (which is why it’s so critical to win while he’s cheap, but that’s another story for another day). With that in mind, you really can’t risk a player like Draisaitl blowing up like Subban did and commanding a massive salary as they move closer to controlling their own destiny in free agency.

Besides, bridge deals aren’t particularly cheap for good players, either. Ryan Johansen’s three-year bridge deal pays him $4 million annually and Nikita Kucherov took one this summer worth $4.767 million annually. Even Tyler Toffoli’s absurdly team-friendly bridge deal cost the Kings $3.25 million annually over two years. 

There’s obviously appeal to the bridge deal because it forces a player not to get complacent in the short-term, it keeps things slightly cheaper than it would with a long-term deal, and it avoids the risk of the premature, underserved contract that ends up haunting the franchise for years. But Draisaitl isn’t the kind of player you want to jerk around with to save a couple million dollars in cap room over the next few seasons. This is a player who’s already producing at a high level, has underlying numbers to indicate he could do even better, and, even at his age, has a respectable all-around game. 

The best course of action for the Oilers here is to capitalize on that extra year of control they have. They should offer Draisaitl a long-term extension this summer, but since they’ll only be eating two years of unrestricted free agency on a seven-year deal, they can realistically get him locked up at a lower annual salary than the three comparables from the 2013 draft. While there’s a risk involved, based on what we’ve seen from Draisaitl so far in his career, there’s a very fair chance that contract could end up being a bargain. 

  • SweetBabyNuge

    Good article, Cam. Leon will command 6+, you can’t have Eberle and Nuge making that money and not give it to Leon.

    Side note: you mention in the beginning that he’s played 85 games, but the 85 I’m assuming is his point total.

        • Randaman

          Good point but neither of them were drafted by PC. I wouldn’t doubt it he dumped one of them to make room for Leon’s raise.

          He has already dealt with the flack of trading Hall so don’t count it out. To be honest neither one of them are worth more than a 2nd rounder the way they are playing

  • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

    LD seems to be getting better as the season moves on. If he ends up with 65+ points and top 20 in scoring 6M will be the starting price.

    The 6M contracts handed out by Lowe/Tambo/McT are beginning to look like boat anchors. 6M 3rd line players are a problem.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      We’re not really in a mess though. We have about 5M in cap space. Hendricks and Ference come off the books which is another 5M. The year after that, Fayne’s 3.6M comes off the books.

      Worst case scenario, we hold onto about 1M of Nuge or Ebs salary so we can trade them and put that money into McDavid when the time comes.We will have enough to pay Dr.Drai

  • Strottie

    Draisaitl at 6 million per seems like it could cause problems down the line, but it’s honestly not all that bad.

    With Draisaitl’s bonus structure on his ELC, he made about 2.5 million last season and should do so again this year. In reality, he’s only getting paid an additional 3.5 for his services. Considering that the board of governors is talking about the cap rising by millions (note: plural) and our near 8 million in cap space, we could afford all three of RNH, Eberle, and Draisaitl for the remainder of McDavid’s ELC (Draisaitl getting 6M only adds like 1.5 million to our cap hit if the cap rises).

    Given his chemistry with Connor, Draisaitl at 6 million over 7 years (ideally) is going to be a disgusting bargain.

    However I’m dead certain that if RNH can’t find his game in the back half of this season, he’ll be the piece that moves in order to offload a brinks truck on McDavid. Maybe Chiarelli calls up Nashville in the offseason after the expansion draft and inquires about Ellis.

    • toprightcorner

      Most of that 8$ mill cap space goes to McDavid. You have Nurse, Davidson and JP coming up soon. MacT set the dumb precedent of $6 mill deals, Chia needs to set the precedent for 3 year bridge deals, then sign 8 year deals and you have 11 more years not just 8.

      Draisaitl 3 years $12.5 mill Then do the same for Nurse, Davidson and JP. Bridge contracts keep the core together longer and a bigger window to compete for the cup.

  • Coach My PP

    Oilers need to trade Eberle before starting negotiations with Draisaitl.

    If Leon’s agent uses Eberle’s play and pay as an example-the Oilers will have to pay him around 9-10 a year.

    • pkam


      If we are using ppg up to the contract signing as the basis for contract value, Eberle has 52G and 67A 109 pts in 137 games, working out to be 0.87 ppg in his first 2 NHL seasons.

      If we include Leon’s 1st NHL season, his ppg is 0.62. Even if we exclude his 1st NHL season, his ppg is 0.75.

      Not sure why Leon should get 9-10M for 0.62 ppg when Eberle get 6M for 0.87 ppg?

      Even this year, probably Eberle’s worst season, he still scores 22 pt in 29 games, 0.76 ppg.

    • toprightcorner

      doesn’t matter who Eberle plays for, they will use comparisons for the league. Kucherov, Johanssen and Pearson are guys I would look at that took bridge deals.

      If your trading a $6 mill guy, it would have to be Nuge, he has more value and you cant pay $6 mill for a 3C. Ebs is always a top 6 winger

    • toprightcorner

      doesn’t matter who Eberle plays for, they will use comparisons for the league. Kucherov, Johanssen and Pearson are guys I would look at that took bridge deals.

      If your trading a $6 mill guy, it would have to be Nuge, he has more value and you cant pay $6 mill for a 3C. Ebs is always a top 6 winger

  • fisherprice

    He’s gonna command $6 million plus, and I think it’ll be pretty hard not to give it to him. Probably in and around the same $6.3 mark as Mackinnon and Monahan. He still has his best years ahead of him. Hall did carry him offensively last year, but he’s proving this year that he can up his game without a player like Hall on his line. I remember feeling really optimistic about this season for Drai when I heard Kopitar talking him up at the WCOH. I think he can see a lot of himself in Leon, and hell, even if he’s just a poor man’s Kopitar, that’s a hell of a player to have at $6 million.

      • fisherprice

        Okay man. I mean, his production fell off a cliff anytime he wasn’t playing with Hall last year. He actually produced more than twice as many points per 60 at 5v5 with Hall than without. It’s a pretty clear sign that Hall was the catalyst for him last year.

        I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Leon was in his second season, his first full season, and he was acquitting himself nicely with a high level player – not something everyone can do. The point I’m making is that Leon has stepped up this year and shown growth as a player. This is a good thing.

          • fisherprice

            He mostly played with Hall, over 80% of his even strength minutes. His time away from Hall was with a hodgepodge of linemates, mostly Eberle, Nuge, and Pouliot. So you can make the argument he never really had time to develop chemistry with those guys like he did with Hall. Hall’s scoring numbers dipped a tiny bit away from Drai – 2.80 GF per 60 with Drai, 2.60 GF without.

            Again, I’m not arguing that Leon had a bad year. It’s very rare for a young player, even one with a high pedigree like Draisaitl, to drive an offensive line all by himself in his second season in the NHL. I’m arguing it’s good he could keep up with Hall last year and that he also seems to have shown substantial improvement this year without Hall on his wing.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    Question, not trying to start a fight or anything. What do you guys think is the over/under on Connor resigning long term with the Oilers? and what would that cap hit be? 10mill, 12mill or more. Serious answers only

    • Mike Krushelnyski

      Assuming the cap gets a modest bump to $75M, the max you can offer is 8 x $15M, so that. I don’t see a lot of 20 year olds turning down $120M.

      • Spiel

        On Draisaitl, the starting point on anything long term is $6M per season. Every UFA year bought will bump up the cost.

        For McDavid what is left to build a team around him if you are paying him $15M per season? Oilers will want to buy UFA years on McDavid, I don’t see it being cheap, but $15M per season could be folly. On an 8 year deal where McDavid gives up 4 years of UFA, I think he can argue he should be the highest paid player in the league given that he is already the best player in the league. Maybe $97M over 8 years which works out to a cap hit of $12.125M per year?

        Or doe management take a different approach and go shorter term for less cap hit to try and build around Connor? Players who win tend to want to stay where they are. Leave some room to make a good team and then convince him to stay longer in the winning environment when he’s a UFA?

        • I am Batman

          Which winning environment?

          We haven’t seen that in 10 years, we aren’t seeing winning environment now.

          Pay him whatever he wants and lock him up for as long as you can, speculating that there will be a winning environment in a few years is part of what has us here in the first place

    • toprightcorner

      What I would try to do with McDavid is work out a high paying bridge deal. McD will always make more on endorsements than salary so he has luxury to take less salary and still fill the bank.

      McDavid knows if he gets paid $12 mill, he knows he has no chance to have a team around him to win a cup during those 8 years of his prime.

      I would offer McDavid $7 a year for 4 years and then give him a $11-$12 deal for 8 years after that.

      Katz can give McD a 43 mill Rexall endorsement deal to make up the difference without affecting the cap.

      That is best for Connor and the team.

  • Dinojr

    Signing him mean the end for Eberle and maybe Nuge as well. Welcome to the Connor era. Is it ever relieving that these are the kind of problems now facing Oil country

  • TruthHurts98

    Draisaitl literally has different line mates every game and is still producing. Nuge is babied, protected and is playing like he wants to sit in the Pressbox, has better line mates but can’t produce at 6 million. Either they dump Nuge or since Ebs is also making 6 million they pay Leon more. I think PC is going to make some more moves. Leon looks like he could be a Malkin type player someday. The thought of him and Connor as our 1-2 centre punch is comforting. If they sign him long term for 6 mil/yr they will be laughing. I’m guessing he’ll cost a bit more.

    • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

      I wouldn’t say Nuge is getting babied (this from a person who has had a more realistic assessment of Nuge than many of the Nugaholics), in fact I saw an article yesterday saying only Bergeron has had more difficult assignments this year. I assume this is based on zone starts and quality of opposition. There is no doubt though that Nuge is overmatched many nights this year.

      So I’m wondering if its time for LD to take on the heavies and let Nuge get more true 3rd line assignments.

    • Dump them both, dont even care for what. Combined they lose us more games than they help us win. Turns out all of picks, only McDavid is the real deal, all the others turned out to be support players and their game really does not even suit that role. They will end up like Gagner, lucky to get a million on a PTO.

  • Big Cap

    Leon has already demonstrated he will be well worth the 6M+ it will take for him to sign a long term deal. He is the perfect 2C behind McD.

    As a grossly overpaid and under performing 3rd line centre, Chia can now finally unload Baby Nuge and his soft, weak, lack of leadership style of play. “Mr. 200 Ft. Player” has provided zero positive impact to this team this year.

  • bigrooster

    Eberle is actually producing, Nuge has fell right off and lately even his “200 ft game” has been sub par. Cash in on Nuge’s potential before his value plummets. A 6 mil player only producing 30 some points a year will be a hard sell soon. Caggulia looks to be a cheaper and more effective 3rd line center as he progresses.

  • If he allows a value contract on more years given fewer UFA years, go with that. If not try and get a bridge and in the mean time you are able to better assess which other 6 million dollar man you trade. They are just not going to be able to keep both Nuge and Ebs going forward. Especially if they are still looking to upgrade with a right shot puck moving 2 pair D man.

  • Oiler Al

    Is he ready to be the “Malkin” of the Oilers? If he is the number 2 center,which I think he should be,then he will be paid in the $6+ range x7.Can you afford to carry a third line center @$6 million. Me thinks not.

    My only gripe with Dria is he seems to not bring it every shift or game for that matter. Probably just me, but to me he looks out of shape. He certainly needs to work on his D coverage ,playing as a centerman.

  • TruthHurts98

    It’s obvious why Columbus wanted Johansen over Nuge in the Seth Jones trade, RJ’s a far better player. Baby Nuge can’t win face-offs, is tied for the worst plus minus on the team and seems to have lost all of his offensive instincts even with better line mates than Leon. Caggulia is producing more than Nuge and would be a better 3C soon if not already. Maybe sit Nuge for a game and see if it wakes him up? Maybe he’s playing hurt?? Don’t think PC could offload him for a whole lot. Too bad that 2 of the 1st overall pics were duds.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Love the Nuge but it’s becoming more and more evident that Drai is the second line centre of this team long term. Every game, he gets better in all three zones.

  • Mcbain

    I should fight MacT if for no other reason, burning Dr Drai’s 1st Year of ELC with 40 games before sending him back to Junior. It’ll be awesome though, him not wearing a bucket on his lid means I won’t have to worry about punching it when we throw down!

  • Glass

    My prediction is Nuge plays like we knew he could later in the season. This divides the fan base on offloading him, making for a tough decision on for Chiarelli.

  • @Hallsy4

    Ebs will likely only be here for max 2 more years. Nuge might be the guy to trade eventually, but makes sense to wait until the timing and return are right. Should be money for Drai, McDavid and Nurse. Along with Larsson and Klef who are on good contracts, and Talbot, this is the new core and it looks very good. Contracts like Pouliot, Fayne, Letestu, Hendricks, etc will be gone fairly soon. Key is to avoid bad ones going forward, and might have to trade Nuge and/or Ebs in the future. Things are looking very good, only concern is Lucic and Sekera in 4 or 5 years.

  • elliotsmom

    There is $$$$$ coming off the books at the end of the season, and a possible buy-out of Fayne. I’m sure a 6 million dollar man is either gone at the deadline or in the off season. I think there will be lots left for Connor, Leon and Darnell. I think #29 will want 6.8 for 8years.

  • Bills Bills

    Bridge deal. He has been streaky and still has to prove himself. Knowing where the team is at after expansion and what happens with the salary cap in the next two years will be key. Obviously when you have to lock up CMD long term other players will see the opportunity and may take a little less. This is critical that the team stops its handing out of contracts based on what they think a player will do. Bridge deal and the worst case scenario is Dri plays awesome and commands a large salary. Oh no what will we do? Sign him to a deal where he can continue to play with CMD or trade him for fair value. Long term and worse case is he plays like crap and gets complacent and we’re stuck with a big contract thats tough to move. Sound familiar?

  • Harry2

    Chiarelli went long term with Klefbom and he’ll go long term with Draisaitl. All Oiler fans should be ok with that. Im guessing very close to 6per X 8years.

  • toprightcorner

    Have to pass out the bridge deals as long as both Nuge and Ebs $4 mill overpays are on the books.

    Chia had don bridges before and I can see a 3 year $4 mill bridge and then sign him for $8 mill

    Bridges should be automatic, if you do an 8 year at $6 mill then after that you will liklely be paying $8 mill for 3 years or more.

    8 years at $6 mill + 3 years at $8 mill equals -11 years $72 mill

    3 years at 4 mill = 7 mill for 7 years is 11 years $61 mill.

    Thats better cap management and extends the time they can have other higher cap hit players with Drai and McDavid and JP.

    Goal is keep others as low as possible for next 3 years before you have to start dumping contracts.

    I would so similar with McDavid. Give him 3 years at $6.5 and then give him 8 years at $10. He makes more in endorcements then salary. He is the guy that will give up a few mill in the first couple years for a cup run.

    MLB has best system with arb rights after 3 years with controlled increases.

    Stroman has ARb and they are estimating $3.5 mill, if he was free agent he would get $12 mill. It allows teams to remain competitive longer and truly utilizing strong drafting.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    I think it’s crazy doing anything but a bridge deal. Worse case scenario you end up having a Crosby/Malkin or a Toews/Kane scenario with two players making huge percentages of the cap. And we’ve all seen that formula works even if it’s tough on the cap, as long as you have a good manager.