Malkin and Crosby. That’s the dream, is it not? That’s the kind of one-two punch the Oilers want to have with McDavid and Draisaitl. All 31 teams in the league dream of having two top centres to build a team around. It is a matchup destroyer in a league as big as the NHL where clubs might only have one defensive pairing that can conceivably handle the duty of taking on a top player shift after shift in the playoffs.
McDavid and Draisaitl were the top scoring duo in the NHL last year, combining for 177 points. Kane and Panarin combined for 163. Crosby and Malkin for 161. In terms of 5v5 scoring, McDavid and Draisaitl had 103 points. Kane and Panarin had 96. Crosby and Malkin had 91. There’s no question that as far as duos go, McDavid and Draisaitl were tops in the league both overall and specifically 5v5.
However, I was blatantly cheating when it comes to Crosby and Malkin because the reality is that they are not a duo. They barely played together at all last year. As discussed at the top, the magic of Crosby and Malkin is not simply in having two players who can produce together. It’s having two players who produce separate and apart from each other.
In 2016-2017 the top two players on the Pittsburgh Penguins played exactly 7:44 together at 5v5. That’s not per game. That’s total. Crosby played 75 games and Malkin just 62, so if we assume that there was a maximum of 62 games that they could have even played together at all, then the two players averaged 7.5 seconds per game on the ice at the same time at 5v5 strength.
That’s the lowest amount of ice time they have ever spent together since this data started getting recorded (2007-2008). It wasn’t always the case that they were completely separated, but it may surprise you to know just how small the percentage of time Malkin has spent with Crosby actually has been.
|Malkin’s TOI with Crosby 5v5|
|Season||Total Time With Crosby||Percentage of Malkin’s 5v5 Minutes|
|Draisaitl’s TOI with McDavid 5v5|
Even very early in their careers, Evgeni Malkin still only played a maximum of 30.5% of his 5v5 time with Crosby (Malkin’s rookie year is the only in his career that predates the ability to track this information). The last six years in particular, the duo of Malkin and Crosby has not been a duo at all. And that’s really the dream for Oiler fans with Draisaitl and McDavid.
Crosby was adding 2.68 Points per 60 minutes and a 58.5% Goals For share and Malkin was adding 2.82 Points per 60 minutes and a 61.9% Goals For share, and they were doing it apart from each other. That’s almost 30 minutes a night of 5v5 domination between the two of them and we haven’t even factored in their Power Play production. That’s a recipe for winning a lot of games in the NHL.
If Leon Draisaitl is McDavid’s wingman for the foreseeable future, then they are set up for great success. They were already the top duo in the NHL last season. But if the team wants Draisaitl to operate the same way Malkin does, then the Oilers are really going to need to change how much time they spend together.
Last year Draisaitl played 670:45 with Connor McDavid, or 57.3% of his 5v5 minutes. It’s almost double what Malkin has spent with Crosby in any of the seasons we have this kind of record for. If Edmonton’s plan is to have two distinct lines championed by McDavid and Draisaitl, then next season is going to be a shock to the system for young Leon.
Together with McDavid, Draisaitl produced 2.24 Points per 60 minutes and they had a Goals For share of 59.8% last season. Away from McDavid, the big German produced just 1.80 Points per 60 and had a Goals For share of 44.2%. He was certainly better on McDavid’s wing than he was on his own line.
What I am not saying is that Draisaitl cannot handle duties away from McDavid. However, he hasn’t yet shown his ability to drive a line and produce at that elite level. The scoring away from McDavid in the regular season wasn’t close to his offense with McDavid and the shot attempt metrics suffered as well. He’s only 21-years-old, so we shouldn’t get too caught up with what he hasn’t accomplished away from McDavid except to acknowledge that he simply hasn’t established himself as a feature player driving his own line.
There’s nothing wrong with success with McDavid and nobody should get defensive or take misguided steps to dismiss the impact the best player in the world can have on his linemates. What would be perhaps a little premature is to take the success he’s had with McDavid and assume it will be the same without him. The player has a history of performing well with high end talent like McDavid and Hall, but very little history being “The Guy.”
But…if the Oilers can get Draisaitl to a point where he’s spending less than 30% of his time with McDavid and still succeeding offensively, then they’ve got something. Then this team really starts to get scary. We saw a glimpse of what might come to be in the playoffs (although I think we should temper expectations as a single series against the Ducks does not erase the season that preceded it). Right now, it’s still the dream for McDavid and Draisaitl to be the Crosby and Malkin of the West, but it’s just a dream. Give it time and some good fortune and we very well might see that dream turn into reality.