Leon Draisaitl’s Near-Perfect 2016-17 Season


Entering this season, Leon Draisaitl was a player with an
odd mix of positives and negatives on his NHL resume. At his best, he brought
to mind Anze Kopitar—a big forward with a nice mix of power, speed, and both
offensive and defensive ability. Yet he was also prone to long offensive
slumps, particularly when away from Taylor Hall.

In the first half of 2016-17, Draisaitl has done everything
possible to allay concerns about his game.

Writing for the Edmonton
, I broke down what I saw as warning signs this way:

[Draisaitl] had two phenomenal months and a 50-point season
is nothing to sneeze at. But he did fade badly down the stretch, and that
combined with a lousy rookie performance should absolutely inject some caution
into the discussion. So too should the fact that without Hall this year he
scored at Lauri Korpikoski levels. While we’re at it, it’s probably not a bad
idea to mention Draisaitl’s 14.3 shooting percentage (up from 4.1 percent a
year ago) or that he had two points and a minus-five rating during his six-game
AHL stint.

We can’t really address the ‘slumping down the stretch’ bit
until we see how he performs in the back half of this year, but we can talk
about the other areas identified in that paragraph.


The first item on the list above is Taylor Hall. Draisaitl
and Hall clicked marvelously (sometimes with Teddy Purcell, sometimes with Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins) last season, and given Hall’s offensive history it was
debatable which player was driving the line.

This season, Draisaitl has played entirely without Hall. He’s
spent some time at centre, mostly between Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrick Maroon,
and he’s spent more time at right wing on the Connor McDavid line. McDavid is
an elite talent, so it’s worth isolating Draisaitl’s performance with
and without
the superstar forward at 5-on-5:

  • with McDavid: 202 minutes, seven points, 2.08 points/60
  • without McDavid: 424 minutes, 13 points, 1.84 points/60

That’s the smallest drop-off of any of McDavid’s regular
linemates, and in a year where the Oilers have struggled to generate secondary
scoring Draisaitl has been the exception. He’s been productive, and he’s been
productive anchoring his own line, which is the sign of a player who can drive
results in his own right.

Draisaitl’s big shooting percentage spike last season is
interesting, too. At 5-on-5, his shooting percentage has fallen off
considerably—from over 14 percent last year to under 10 percent this season. A
9.8 shooting percentage is still quite strong, though, and reinforces the idea
that his rookie year was the aberration.

Additionally, Draisaitl’s overall shooting percentage has
actually increased thanks to an increased role on the power play (his eight
goals on the man advantage are already a career high). One of the advantages of
having him play on the McDavid line rather than anchoring a second unit is that
it keeps the power play units harmonious with the even-strength lines, something
which makes a coach’s life much easier. As long as he’s on that top unit, a
high power play shooting percentage seems entirely sustainable.

This additional confirmation that Draisaitl’s offensive game
is for real just adds one more facet to a player who was already strong in
other areas. Draisaitl’s shot metrics (Corsi/Fenwick) have been excellent all
down the line. His size and speed make him a good fit for a variety of
linemates—he can play a cycling game with big forwards and a rush game with the
speedsters. His addition to the penalty kill isn’t a big surprise given his
junior history, but is yet another indication of a player who gets the job done
in his own end of the rink.

This should give the Oilers the confidence to extend
Draisaitl long-term, but it’s possible that the team pursues a bridge deal
anyway. Draisaitl is still five seasons away from unrestricted free agency, so
a two- or three-year deal at a relatively modest cap hit could give Edmonton maximum
financial flexibility in the short term while still allowing the club to lock
him up to a long-term pact later on.

Draisaitl, Leon

All down the line there has been reason to scrutinize
Draisaitl’s place on the Oilers. On draft day, there was fierce online debate
over whether Draisaitl or Sam Bennett was the superior pick. His disappointing
rookie campaign only increased doubts. Even last year, it was fair to debate
his play both away from Hall and down the stretch, to question his overall offensive upside.

Draisaitl’s work this season has done a superb job of silencing such concerns. Looking back at the list I put together this summer, I find myself marveling at how each point has been checked off during a brilliant first half. Obviously he needs to keep playing well, but if I’d scripted a perfect breakthrough season for the player the first 46 games would look a whole lot like what Draisaitl’s done so far. 

  • Puck_In_Throat

    I remember shaking my head at Willis’ article last summer. Anyone could see that Draisatl would be a star based on the fact that (1) he is big; (2) he is fast and (3) have you seen that backhand sauce?!

    When rumours were circling that Drai was in the mix for Subban I was worried that Chia would not see the value.

    Draisatl is Joe Thornton 2.0

    • JimmyV1965

      He was also awful down the stretch and horrible at the Worlds in the spring. Any rational, thoughtful person would have doubts about his performance, especially in the short term.

        • Gravis82

          So? Everyone on any team will have their stats improve or regress depending on the quality of their line mates.

          Almost everyone does better playing with Connor. But not all perhaps (eberle/lucic). If someone produces there, they deserve some credit

          Leon is also just fine when playing on his own.

          End of story.

        • I will agree to a point. Being on a different line then Mcdavid, He would see the second best quality of competition, and if he plays with him he gets the benefit of playing with one of the best players in the world.

          That being said that happens on every team in the NHL and does nothing to take away from the season he is having. It also says a lot that Draisatl was flying without Mcdavid and when Mcdavid started slumping they put Draisatl on his line to bust him out of his slump…….and it worked.

        • pkam

          Did you even read the article?

          with McDavid: 202 minutes, seven points, 2.08 points/60

          without McDavid: 424 minutes, 13 points, 1.84 points/60

          So 2.08 pt/60 with McDavid and 1.84 without, it is inflated by less than 10% in his 202 minutes with McDavid, which means about 3% of his total 626 minutes considering he spent about 30% of his 626 minutes with McDavid.

      • Derzie

        Because they are not the next best player on the team. That was my point. He is obviously better than they are in the circumstances. There are examples everywhere of players thriving in a role. Look at Justin Schultz. What is he? The terrible player he was here or the great player he is in Pitt with Sid on the ice? Somewhere in the middle.

        • Gravis82

          What is your point…again?

          Your posts are somewhat confusing.

          Are you saying that Leon would be, less good, if McDavid wasnt on the team? Im pretty sure you could say that about just about the entire team.

  • Oil Can

    Yes he is a helleva player, I think he is going to be the best player of his draft class. Glad that I bought his jersey. It’s going to be fun watching him and Connor for the next 15 years.

  • I especially like how this didn’t happen by magic. Leon himself noted he wasn’t a strong enough skater for the NHL level, worked on it to the point of now being one of the fastest on the team. Who else has that kind of work ethic and talent combination?

    I kind of figured this year he would pass Nuge simply because in the summer time, while Nuge may have been working hard, was he working as hard as Draisaitl? Is anybody? The guy is German, I don’t know if it’s possible to work harder.

    • AJ88

      Could have been tougher matchups on the road, I don’t think we have to worry much about Drai though, still a young one that is only going to get better.

      Side note, listening to Lowtide and Cullen today, Lowtide stated the Hall/Larson trade is perceived as “wildly unpopular” still in Edmonton today. I am not sure after watching the two games between NJ and the Oilers where you could state the trade was unpopular amongst the players, lukewarm reception by the Oiler bench during Hall’s tribute, Gryba going after Hall every chance he could in NJ, the Kassian episode (McL supported), even RNH taking a shot at him. I am not sure where Lowtide gets off speaking for everybody unless of course he is only talking for a few ON writers and ON readers. I look at where we are today compared to last year, something had to change and so far it looks good.

      • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

        Perceived by whom? Perhaps an official ON poll is needed.

        But let’s be sure there is no Russian hacking going on. If Yak somewhow wins this poll, I would be suspicious.

      • Stack

        I think if anything people might still be unhappy that we didn’t get enough return.

        I can’t see how someone could look at the standings and be mad about the Hall trade. I liked Hall and I was mad about the trade initially but then I realized we just added strength to our weakest position and we still have Connor and Leon.

        • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          You’re right to say people might still be unhappy when they think about the return, but I’d suggest they’re not thinking about it the right way.

          If Lucic was scoring on McDavid’s line there’d be no talk of not getting enough in return. The Oilers traded a $6M 1st line LW and a day later picked up a $6M LW that they (and everyone) thought was a 1st line player. And they got Larsson. In total–at the very worst they got two players who are top 15 in hits. At best, they’ve got a legit 2-to-4 RD and top power forward.

          Did they replace Hall’s points with Lucic? Lucic has 27 and Hall has 28 this year, so we’d have to say yes pretty much–and Lucic is playing poorly at that.

          Did they improve the D with Larsson? Rhetorical question. Oilers are 12th overall in GA/GP, a massive improvement over last year. Of course, that’s not all Larsson and Talbot deserves a good deal of credit, but Larsson’s certainly helping, too.

          Of course not all of this comes down to the one trade and not everything is “Hall’s fault”; however, even for people with Hall jerseys in their closets they have to take some comfort that they can wear them to a meaningful game in January and February and most likely a playoff game in April. I’d say we run a poll during the playoffs and see who still wishes we didn’t have Lucic and Larsson. For some reason I think they both might be valuable players in a playoff series.

        • AJ88

          So the people who thought Chiarelli should have got more for Hall must think he is not too bright and got fleeced by NJ. Maybe and for whatever reason this was the best possible trade to be made for Hall. I liked watching Hall on the ice but there is more to a players value than just his stats.

  • hags437

    Question for you guys. While only being 2.5 yrs removed from the 2014 NHL draft, Ekblad and Draisaitl are clearly the best of the class.
    Who would you take if the draft was held today? Ekblad or Drai? Aka The Germanator

    • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

      If the Oil had somehow gotten Ekblad out of that draft they wouldn’t have needed to trade Hall to get that solid RH Dman. So maybe in a way the question is would you rather have Drai or Hall? Always take the center?

      • Nickel

        I would pose the question as “Who would you rather have; Ekblad & Hall or Draisaitl & Larsson?”

        Ekblad & Hall might look sexier on paper (not literally), but based on the fact that we are watching an Oiler team compete for the Division title in mid-January, I’d personally stick with Dr. Drai & Lars. My answer definitely would have been different 6 months ago though.

      • JimmyV1965

        Wow. That’s a tough question. Don’t want to be a homer, but I take Drai. He’s stronger and a better passer. Has more depth to his game. He could be a top
        10 centre within two years. Imagine that!!!

    • CaptainLander

      Still take Ekblad…long term #1 d-men are even harder to find than Centers..and we still has McD.

      But I guess we can see them head to head tomorrow.

      Tough one..

    • Dreadguy

      With the state of the Oilers right now? I’d still pick Drai. Ekblad is a monster defender, only 20, and a R shot, but is on pace for less than 30pts. We’ve got a guy like that already in Larsson.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Great question for later this week. Ekblad is a #1 D man in the making. He’s got all pieces and has developed as well as any D man in the league over the last 5 years. Drai is a legitimate 1C and plays a 200 ft game.

      The answer probably depends on the needs of a team. If carbon copies of the two players were available to the Oilers at next year’s draft, I’d take the Ekblad copy because we’ve already got strength down the C spine (and the original Dr. Drai) but need a 1RD.

      You couldn’t go wrong picking either of them.

      • hags437

        Its a lot closer right now than a year ago that’s for sure and you absolutely can’t go wrong with either. Ekblad’s on track to be a beast but not sure what his offensive ceiling will be. Leon seems to have the cool and calm of a bad-ass assassin. Can’t wait to see him grow as a player. And yeah I guess I’m a homer but I’ll take Leon.

    • Stack

      If you would have asked me at the end of last season I would have said Ekblad, he pretty much stepped in to the NHL and started contributing, he’s big and he’s a right shot and we all know what the price is for that kind of player.
      I just looked in to how he is doing this year and he’s -16 and on the third pairing in florida so either he’s going through a rough patch or they’re expecting him to play a bigger role and he can’t deliver.

      I’m gonna say Draisaitl but that is a biased answer (I can’t help it)

      • Redbird62

        I think Draisaitl is a very high quality player and will get better, but I would believe 30 of 30 GMs would still take Ekblad today. He has played first pair minutes since his first year, and excelled, which garnered him the Calder. If you watch him play, he will be a contender for the Norris for years to come if Florida does not screw him up. His play, along with all of Florida’s has dropped off, probably because the team has been taken over by analytics junkies, this year. Analytics should be used as a tool to inform, not set strategy. It failed with Eakins and Arizona is not off to a good start with it either.

  • Stack

    Just thought I’d bring up how our slow witted neighbors to the south thought Bennet was better than Drai hahahaha and the sad part is some of them still think so hahaha man I hate the flames.

    • I was one of those people as well, thinking Bennett played a more physical game, despite Drai towering him physically.

      Drai proved me wrong on many levels but one that isn’t often mentioned is the fact that after his rookie season, he worked on his biggest weakness during the offseason. That was his speed. And right now, that looks like one of his strengths.

      It is that one added element that makes him a far greater offensive threat that I ever imagined (that sounds hyperbolic but it’s true, I thought of him as a powerforward and not a speedy 2-way player).

      Yakupov trains hard in the offseason, but that’s focused on his already established talents and not his weaknesses. We saw Eberle focus on his shot (which I thought wasn’t his problem) during this offseason, rather than winning puck battles or protecting the puck. Drai did a good job of focusing on the right thing to make him a well rounded player.

      Maroon did something similar this offseason, so there’s something to be said about identifying the right things to fix and then fixing them.

      I also respect Draisaitl’s demeanor on and off the ice. He seems even keel, extremely focused, and thoughtful. He seems to be a quick learner in regards to what does and doesn’t work on the ice. Because of these things I think he is only going to get better.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    You look at that 2014 draft and the trolling Flames fans gave us on the heels of Sam Bennett scoring 3 goals in the playoffs (Oooooh!).

    Today, I’m not sure I’d trade Leon straight up for anyone in the draft. Ekblad would probably be a trade to make if it was there. But if the Panthers were offering up Aaron straight up for Leon, even if I made the deal I’d probably think long and hard about it.

    And I’d probably lose sleep some nights wondering if I made a mistake.

      • @Hallsy4

        Well whether he meant to or not, pretty much everything he said would happen in the summer with Drai, or concerned about how good drai is, was completely wrong and he pointed that out in the article and how impressive it is that Leon answered all the concerns… More or less what I took out of it anyways. And to be fair to Willis I mostly agreed with him on this one and was worried about a lot of the same stuff with Drai, especially exibition in World Cup.

        • There is a huge difference between saying something will happen and noting an area of concern.

          Everything he noted was indeed an area of concern and the fact that Draisaitl is now alleviating those concerns does not mean Willie was wrong.

          • @Hallsy4

            “Or concerned about how good Drai is”, said I. So I addressed that no? I also said, “to be fair to Willis I mostly agreed with him on this one and was worried about a lot of the same stuff with Drai”.

            So Drai proved all the doubters, worriers, or those concerned wrong, as I and WILLIE said. So I think we are in agreement here, and I agree with WILLIE too for a change.

          • @Hallsy4

            My initial comment was meant as a compliment as Willie drew attention to his “concerns” this past summer, and followed up with explaining how Drai has impressively answered all of the concerns. If you don’t want to call it eating crow that’s fine. In my opinion however, at the very least, he served himself a dish of crow. A three course meal. Whether he ate it or not I guess is a matter of opinion. I was impressed because I thought he was admitting where he was mistaken (which I agreed with his concerns, as I said) , or at least giving credit where credit is due. Writers do not always write articles like that, and I admired Willie for it. Since you took my comment as an attack on Willie, I will point out a few examples where writers have refused to eat a dish of crow. (1. Pouliot and his fancy stat darling. 2. Russell 3. Hall Trade). This article was nice as it stated the facts, it’s impossible to predict everything in sports, that’s why sports are good.

  • Spoils

    there’s been some chatter about trying RNH on the line with McDavid and getting Leon back on his own line.

    I’d like to see us add a scoring winger – not a big expensive one, but a player that does lean shoot before pass.

    a lot of pass first action on the oil right now.

    either way – leon as second line center next year


    • Gravis82


      You post this on every page, and get mega trashed. But, entitled to your opinion nonetheless.

      RNH is not a 3rd line center. He will either be playing center on 2, or in my opinion, should be on McDavids wing.

      It is alot easier right now to move RNH to the top line right wing, and sign a 3rd line center than it is to find a top line right wing for cheap.

      Do you think that RNH could fit the position you are seeking to fill on RW on line 1?

      • Spoils

        problem for me with this is RNH is not a scorer. he is a passer on a team with a lot of passers.

        as well. RNH is a useful defensive center.

        RNH will peak late and so if we trade now we are likely to not realize his value.

        The Pens won a cup because they had Kessel on the 3rd line. I’d argue that a great 3rd line is a good strategy for a team without a true #1D.

        we need to differentiate in different ways.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    TAYLOR Who ?
    Bennet Who ?

    Good players 100% for sure but we have what a team needs, its not all about having the best individuals but rather the best TEAM and we are now at this point in the playoffs.

    Go Oilers. Rogers will rock with a playoff round.
    CHIA isn’t done yet. Build us to win a round or 2.
    2 more pieces and we should be feared.

    Remember 06 ….

    I will take Leon every single day. and so would Flame Fans.

  • S cottV

    Maroon – McD – Nuge, playing rush / cycle

    Lucic – Drai – Iginla or like, cycle / rush

    Pouliot – Cagguila – Eberle rush / cycle

    Khaira – Letustu – Kassian cycle / rush

    Hendricks – extra.

      • S cottV

        Yes – serious.

        Need a stop gap power winger, who can score, to play Lucic cycle style hockey. Iginla or Iginla like. A veteran rental that doesn’t cost too much.

        Eberle cannot contribute to that style, particularly as things amp up toward and in the playoffs. To keep it in the o zone – it becomes a trench war. One weak link and forget it, you can’t hold possession.

        That takes Lucic out of the o zone and we all know what that looks like.

  • Boom or Bust

    I’ve always love Draisatyl. I wanted him specifically in the draft because we needed more big and mean on our team. I also love how he got mad being sent down and fought his as back quick and proved he belonged. He is a star on this team and I am happy we got a guy like this with McDavid.

  • wiseguy

    Anyone hear the interview of Khaira on the Gregor show today on TSN? I was appalled when he was asked something along the lines of: “can you tell me what it means to kids in Canada and even back home?” Where exactly may “home” be as he was born in Surrey, BC?

      • Harry2

        Ekblad should have definatley been signed to a bridge deal. Defenceman almost always take longer to develop.

        7.5 per is a massive salary for the production they will get out of him for a year or two

  • Oiler Al

    Drisaitl as the makings of being even a better player than Kopitar. A guys with size, can skate and is a sublime passer, both fore and backhand.Ultimately he will be a center!

    Needs some work in the FO circle .as well as on the defensive side of the game.

    Maybe its just me, but seems often he looks gased out on the ice more so than some others?

  • toprightcorner

    Don’t forget that Draisaitl played 20 games in the World Cup as well as Olympic qualifying. He is well past the point already this year where he started to fade last year. That is a very good sign.

      • @Hallsy4

        Well most teams would like to add a Canadian Olympic team member, who’s game is based on speed and Skill. He seems like he’d compliment McDavid very nicely actually. Those players are rarely available, but one is now. The Oilers have 3 centers, which may not be sustainable in the salary cap era at some point in the future. Duchene makes team Canada generally it seems, where guys like Hall Nuge and Ebs would never. I guess this year you could make a case that Drai is good enough that if he was Canadian he would make team Canada, but I doubt he would (based on a lot of factors, as I think he’s probably good enough, or getting there). For the record, I probably wouldn’t do that deal either, which is insane to say. Before this season, Duchene probably would have been the best Oil player minus McDavid, which is saying a lot to be better than guys like Hall. Those are the reasons that the deal would be attractive to the Oilers though brother, say I.

        • Hemmercules

          Who cares if he played for team Canada. I want the better player right now. Drai is bigger, younger, faster and this season the better player. I would say they have equal upside over their careers in the offence department.

          Not saying I wouldn’t want Duchene but as it sits right now Drai for Duchene is probably a bad move.

          Ps. Hall, Nuge and Ebs have all played for team Canada or North America. Not olympics though.

          • Hemmercules

            Nuge and a a decent pick might get that done, or even Eberle and a really good pick. Avs need to get better though, taking the Oilers underachieving 6 million dollar guys seems unlikely to me. Both are younger than Duchene though, if they are full rebuild it could happen.