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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Feature: Don’t Devalue Draisaitl

Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers have yet to reach an agreement on a new contract. Some reports stated Draisaitl’s camp is asking for $9 million/season, and maybe more. What they ask for and what the final contract is are two completely different things. The reality is at this point there are no comparables to suggest he can demand that salary. I understand why his agent would ask, but when he signs a deal I’ll be stunned if it is over $9 million AAV. I suspect he falls between $7.2-$7.8 million/season.

What I don’t understand about Draisaitl’s contract talk is how suddenly he is considered a risk because, in the eyes of some, he either isn’t proven enough or had his offensive numbers inflated by Connor McDavid.

I see holes in either insinuation.

I’ve been a huge fan of Draisaitl the player since his draft year. Big, strong, highly-skilled centres are a rare breed in the NHL. Draisaitl is not only talented, he’s also very driven. “I believe he will be great, because he works so hard. He is always looking to improve his game,” Taylor Hall said after the 2016 season.

The early knock on Draisaitl was his skating, more so a lack of strength to maintain his speed for more than short bursts. He spent hours in the gym working on his legs in the summer of 2015, and when he returned to the NHL in 2015/2016 no one questioned his skating. I think much of the concern was overblown because he had top speed, he just couldn’t maintain it for the entire game. It is easier to fly around the ice at 180 pounds than it is at 210. Draisaitl just needed some time to mature and get stronger.

One of his biggest strengths is his ability to handle and pass the puck as efficiently on his backhand as he does on his forehand. I don’t see this skill deteriorating, and the one aspect that won’t show up in any analytics page is his drive to improve. The best players in any sport have an immense inner drive to improve, be better and ultimately compete. Draisaitl has it.

RARE COMPANY

May 7, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates his second period hat-trick goal against the Anaheim Ducks in game six of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Since the 2005 full season lockout, only 17 players have scored 70+ points in a season when they were 21 years of age or younger before December 31st of that year. Seventeen players over the past 12 seasons.

**If a player turns 20 like McDavid in January, it was still his 19 year-old-season.**

Sidney Crosby did it four times tallying 102 points at 18, 120 at 19, 72 at 20 (53GP) and 103 at 21. He’s elite. His second contract was five years at $8.7 million/year.

Steven Stamkos did it three times with 95 points at 19, 91 at 20 and 97 at 21. Injuries have slowed him down a bit. His second contract was five years with a $7.5 million AAV.

Patrick Kane also did it three times with 72 points as a 19-year-old rookie, 70 at 20 and 88 at 21. One of the most dynamic players in the NHL. His second contract was five years at $6.5 mill/year.

Alex Ovechkin had 106 points as a 20-year-old rookie and 92 at 21 years young. The NHL’s premiere goal scorer for the last decade. His second deal was 12 years at $9.53 million per year.

Evgeni Malkin debuted in the NHL at 20 years old and tallied 85 points, and 106 points at 21. Probably the most under-appreciated player in the league because he plays in Pittsburgh. For years he’s been the second best player in the NHL, but rarely gets talked about. His second contract was five years at $8.7 mill/season.

Patrice Bergeron had 73 points at 20 and 70 when he was 21. He has won the Selke four times. He was never an elite scorer, just a very good one, but he’s outstanding defensively and his focus on defence is why he’s more of a 60-point player since. His second contract was $4.75 million/season for five years.

McDavid scored 100 at 19. He won the Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies this past season. He’s already considered one of the best in the game. He just signed his second contract for eight years at $12.5 mill/season.

Eric Staal scored 100 points at 21. He’s had an 82-point season since and six 70+ point campaigns. A very consistent scorer. His second contract was three years at $4.5 million/year.

Nicklas Backstrom scored 88 points at 21. He just missed the cut at 20 when he scored 69 points. In his next eight seasons, he has scored 571 points in 570 games. His second contract was 10 years at $6.7 million/season.

Tyler Seguin scored 84 points at 21. In his next three seasons, he has scored 222 points in 225 games with seasons of 72,73 and 77 points. His second deal was six years at $5.75 million AAV.

John Tavares tallied 81 points when he was 21. He scored 269 points in 267 games over the next four seasons. He had a slight dip this past year with only 66 points in 77 games, but he’s been very consistent. His second contract was six years with a $5.5 million AAV.

Erik Karlsson is the only D-men on the list. He produced 78 points when he was 21 and he’s had seasons of 74, 66, 82 and 71 points since. He is a marvel to watch. His second contract carried a $6.5 million AAV for seven years.

Paul Stastny was 21 when he scored 78 points. He’s had two 70-point seasons since. He had his best offensive seasons up until 24. He had dipped since. His second contract was five years at $6.6 million/year.

Anze Kopitar scored 77 points when he was 20. He’s had seasons of 81, 76, 73, 79, 66 and 64 since. This past season, at 29 years of age, was his least productive with only 52 points, mainly due to a brutal start. His second deal was seven years with an AAV of $6.8 million.

Jordan Eberle had 76 points when he was 21. It was his career-high to date. He’s had 63 and 65 point seasons since. He has scored the 24th most goals in the NHL since entering at 20, so he’s doing something right. His second contract was six years with a $6 million AAV.

Of the aforementioned 15 contracts, only Staal had a “bridge” deal at three years. His next deal was $8.25/mill for seven years. Six players signed for five years, three for six, two for seven and three had eight plus seasons. Draisaitl won’t sign for five because it takes him directly to unrestricted free agency. (Their cap hits don’t mean a lot considering how salary cap his risen, but wanted to show what length of deals players who produce points at a young age have received).

David Pastrnak scored 70 points as a 20-year-old this season. He had 53 points in 97 games over his first two seasons. A very unique case, since he jumped from 26 points in 51 games last year to 70 points in 75 games this season. He, like Draisaitl, is an RFA.

Draisaitl scored 77 at 21 years of age. He was very good in the playoffs tallying 16 points in 13 games, and he had all 16 points in the final nine games after dealing with a bad chest cold during the first four. Of course a 13-game sample size is very small, but I don’t believe you can discount it.

IS HE UNPROVEN?

Apr 14, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) and San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (39) chase a loss puck during the first period in game two of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

First off, what defines proven in today’s NHL? I doubt we all have the same definition, but history gives us a pretty good indication if a player produces above average points in his first few seasons he will remain a solid, but not always elite, scorer. There are outliers, of course, but if a player is highly productive in their first few seasons they often remain a solid point producer, as long as they avoid significant injuries.

How is Draisaitl more unproven than Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Schiefele, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov and other young players who recently signed their second NHL contract? I don’t believe he is.

Draisaitl has played two full NHL seasons. He scored 48-80-128 points in 154 games the past two years. He had 29-48-77 this season.

Kucherov’s final two years of his ELC produced 58-72-130 points in 159 games. He had 30-36-66 his last year before signing a three-year extension worth $4.76 million/year. He tallied 85 points in 74 games in year one of his deal. If he matches that in the next two he will likely command $9.5 million/season. Possibly even more. A three-year bridge deal is a great bet for Tampa. Had they signed Kucherov to an eight-year deal worth $7.5 million (Tarasenko money) it would have cost them $60 mill. If Kucherov’s next deal is $9.5 mill cap hit then they would pay $61.8 million over the same eight-year span. A three-year bridge is ideal for teams, which is why few players sign them.

Schiefele tallied 44-66-110 in 153 games. He had 29-32-61 in 72 games in 2016 and inked an 8-year deal worth $6.125 million/season. He scored 32-50-82 in 79 games this past season. If he remains close to those numbers he’ll be a great value contract for the Winnipeg Jets. He was two years older than Draisaitl when his ELC expired.

Monahan scored 58-67-125 in 162 games. He had 27-36-63 in 2016 and signed a seven-year deal worth $6.375 million/season. He had 27-31-58 in the first year. Exact same amount of goals, but five fewer assists.

Gaudreau’s two seasons produced 54-88-142 in 159 games. He tallied 30-48-78 in 2016 before signing a six-year extension worth $6.75 million/season. Gaudreau tallied 61 points in the first year of his deal, but he missed ten games and he also missed training camp and the preseason due to a contract spat.

Tarasenko debuted in the NHL at 21, and in his final two seasons leading up to his eight-year extension worth $7.5 million/season, he scored 58-58-116. He had 37-36-73 in the final year of his ELC when he was 23 years of age. In the first two years of his new contract, Tarasenko has produced 40-34-74 and 39-36-75. He’s been very consistent and is one of the best goal scorers in the NHL.

Another recent signing was Evgeny Kuznetsov. He is three years older than Draisaitl and just signed an eight-year extension with a $7.8 million AAV. At 21 years of age, Kuznetsov had nine points in 17 NHL games. He produced 37 points at 22 and broke out at 23 with 77, the had only 59 last year. Kuznetsov did give up five UFA years, while Draisaitl would only be surrendering three, but I could see it being thrown in the comparable pile.

When you look at the aforementioned contracts, I see Draisaitl signing somewhere between $7.2-$7.8 million. If he signs for $8 million I wouldn’t be concerned. I also see him signing for six years, not eight. It will allow him to get to his third contract quicker, and it would be three years before McDavid’s contract expires. That allows the Oilers some time to adjust to another potential increase for both and I believe a two or three-year gap is better than having to sign both in back-to-back seasons.

McDavid Carries Him?

Draisaitl has played 2209 5×5 minutes over the past two seasons, and he has produced 77 points. He played 675 of those minutes with McDavid and had 25 points. What is interesting is that Draisaitl had 34 points in 878 minutes ( 5×5) with Hall in 2016. He had a slightly better production rate with Hall in fact. I doubt anyone would suggest Hall is better than McDavid, and I think sometimes people can overvalue WOWY numbers. Draisaitl can play with skilled players, that should be looked at as a positive, not a negative. Maroon played a lot with McDavid with the past season, but he finished with 35 fewer points than Draisaitl. It is fair to bring up those numbers, but they should not be the main aspect of Draisaitl’s evaluation. One stat does not define who he is as a player. I believe it devalues Draisaitl’s abilities by suggesting his success is mainly due to McDavid.

From March 14th to May 10th the Oilers played 27 games. It was the push to the playoffs as they battled for home ice and then 13 playoff games. In those 27 games, Draisaitl produced 12-25-37. McDavid produced 12-22-34. Draisaitl also switched from wing to centre and didn’t miss a beat. I see versatility as a positive.

Draisaitl had 16 EV points and five PP points down the stretch and then ten EV points and six PP points in the playoffs.
McDavid had 17 EV points, seven PP and one PK in final 14 games, and then four EV points, four PP and one PK in the playoffs.

During the most important time of the season, and the most intense, Draisaitl played exceptionally well. I don’t recall him riding the coattails of McDavid. I feel strongly when you evaluate Draisaitl you should look at what he does on the ice, how he does it and how diligent he has worked to improve his overall game. And there is no need to suddenly try and devalue his skill as a player. He is damn good, and the Oilers will need more than McDavid if they want to win a Stanley Cup. Great teams win Cups, not individuals.

McDavid is a unique player and I don’t believe his contract should even be a talking point when looking at Draisaitl’s contract. The fact they are teammates shouldn’t alter the negotiations. If Draisailt had scored 77 points in Detroit, Vancouver or any other team other than Edmonton then his contract comparables would be Kucherov, Tarasenko, Gaudreau, Monahan, Schiefele and possibly Kuznetsov.

SCOUTING REPORT

I asked TSN analyst Ray Ferraro what he sees in Draisaitl.

“I have few things here. Number one, is the only thing I would have a little bit of caution on.  I’ve seen some articles breaking down what Draisaitl’s done over the last year, and one point was that he got 37% of his points on McDavid’s wing, so that would give me a little bit of pause. Because, of course, McDavid is McDavid.  

“But! What I thought was going to be a weakness for him was his skating. It’s not. His skating is fine. He’s a terrific passer. He’s strong. He’s got a drive. He doesn’t want to be a second banana, he wants to be the best. I’ve known that about Leon since he was in junior, when my buddy was the head coach and general manager (Bruno Campese) in Prince Albert, and he said “You can’t believe this kid, and how hard he works. He’s so good, but he wants to be the best. 

“My one worry point gets washed out by the fact that I’ve seen him place centre, I’ve seen him drive a line, I’ve seen him pass the puck, I’ve seen him get to the net, I’ve seen his shot grow already. I have no problem envisioning Draisaitl as a number one centermen. I have none. Now you have to make the numbers work.

 “I look at a number of teams where Leon Drasaitl could easily be a centrepiece. One of their core players. I have very, very, very little concern about his abilities.”

WRAP UP

The potential of an offer sheet still exists, but the list is pretty short on teams who could and would submit an offer sheet.

It is also unlikely he signs right away. I’d expect his agent to come in with a high salary, he wouldn’t be doing his job properly if he didn’t, and many RFA negotiations have gone deep into the summer. Monahan signed in late August last year. Gaudreau signed on October 10th, Kucherov on October 11th. Jacob Trouba and his agent asked for a trade, held out, but ultimately signed on November 4th for $3 million/year.

Negotiations are business, not personal. Peter Chiarelli has made it clear he respects Draisaitl and views him as a key piece and that’s why I expect a deal to get done eventually, but as the summer progresses I don’t see the need to want to try and devalue Draisaitl.

He is a damn good player and I suspect he will improve, regardless of who he plays with.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Anton CP

    Leon Draisaitl has talent, however is he the 8m/per talent? Not at this stage of his career. So far that his numbers are highly inflated by playing to great playmakers and he has not yet demonstrated that he can produce consistently by himself. 51% of his points shared with McDavid and 75% shared with Taylor Hall a season before. One of the biggest knock on why he has not showed that he is capable of carrying his own line which is he has notoriously high giveaways. He is sixth among forwards and third for someone stands over 6 feet tall. He is 121st on total shots last year and a whopping 17% accuracy which put him 16th from players played minimum 50 games. However if we put Draisaitl at the same shooting percentage as the same, let’s say, Patrick Kane, at 11.6% then his production will be dropped off to 20 goals total. When a player is looking for 8m+ payday then he needs to at least play like one. Not a single NHLers besides McDavid under the age of 25 is getting paid for more than 7m per so that 7.5m is already overly generous and anything beyond 8m is just insane.

  • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

    Do I think he is better than Tarasenko? Yes! Do I think he is better than Kuznetsov? Yes!
    Saying that,he should not be paid any mor the 8 million/year! If you can’t get him for less he should go to the highest bidder.
    I mean ,what else can you do?

  • madjam

    Tit for tat . Whom was carrying whom ? Was Connor riding Leon to scoring title ? It would almost appear so when you consider the playoffs . Leon has proven to be an elite talent in playoffs in junior , NHL , etc.. He is projected to get even better in next two years .

  • Stallions #35

    I love Draisaitl and I think he will be a good player but I secretly fear us paying him huge money put big expectations on him whereby he is unable to meet right away. The we will have a Penner/ Horcoff situation; not in talent but where because of their contracts, the pressure becomes too much.

  • Heschultzhescores

    We should have signed McDavid after Draisaitl…that contract made everyone greedy. But there is only one McDavid…he won every trophy already…the cup is his next goal!

  • JimmyV1965

    Sign the man for eight years and get it done. I think a lot of people are worried because of the $6 million dollar signings to
    Ebs, Hall and RNH. However, just watching him play you can see already he is better than all these guys. The only one close is Hall. Drai possesses a very unique combo of size and skill. The only two players today that are similar are Getzlaf and Jumbo Joe. Drai will be an incredible beast when he gets his man strength in a couple years. He’s already a master at protecting the puck. The bigger risk is signing him to a bridge deal and then being forced to pay him $10 mill or more in a couple years.

    • Anton CP

      I don’t think that Draisaitl’s value will receive a huge boost after a bridge deal, I mean, a bridge deal would be more fitting if Draisaitl is seriously thinking of a massive payday. If he can prove that he is a 10m worthy then pay him is not out of the question but the team has zero reason to pay him anything over 8m as for now. If he wants the money, he has to earn it.

  • camdog

    There were a few posters that were upset with the coaches in respect to LD’s management. Those like ScottV were correct he should have been converted to center earlier in the season. Now there’s a lot of comparisons between him and other wingers in the league, but if he’s a center his value is higher than some of those comparable wingers. Add it up and I don’t think you can escape the bridge deal.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Jason, you ask if he is unproven, and say “history gives us a pretty good indication if a player produces above average points in his first few seasons he will remain a solid, but not always elite, scorer”…then you leave out his first season’s stats altogether. Being he has only played three years in the league that skews your numbers quite a bit.