Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Dream

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
2007-2008 341:50 29.1%
2008-2009 364:54 30.5%
2009-2010 171:18 17.8%
2010-2011 144:30 25.5%
2011-2012 62:28 5.5%
2012-2013 42:06 9.5%
2013-2014 96:44 11.2%
2014-2015 70:28 7.2%
2015-2016 30:04 3.7%
2016-2017 7:44 0.9%
Draisaitl’s TOI with McDavid 5v5
2016-2017 670:45 57.3%

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.

  • RyanCoke

    Too soon for this kind of article. Sample is way too small… I guess it’s just a “this is what we aim for” kind if article but still would have been better minus the stats with that small of a sample

  • Booby Chickens

    Thanks for playing Devils advocate against JG’s lovefest yesterday…people getting ahead of themselves with the Malkin/Crosby comparison.. needs to prove he can do it on his own..

  • ScottV

    I like at least one guy in top 2c, to be a bigger guy for more effective line matching. Running into a Getzlaf scenario was inevitable, where RNH was eaten. Drai should have been groomed for that role, instead of flanking for McD as much as McL went to that well.

    Any concerns that Drai is not for real are unfounded. Just look at the way he plays. Classic – beautiful big man in the middle player. He’s like a modern day Jean Beliveau and almost as much of a can’t miss elite talent as that of McD. He is inclusive – see’s the entire ice, smart in all areas of the ice, handles the puck, protects it, delivers world class passes off both hands, can shoot to score, works at his game – I mean how do you question any of this?

    While he has tremendous individual skill, the fact that he has even better inclusive skill – the ability to use others around him effectively, pretty much guarantees elite success in my mind. Just give him some decent complimentary players to play with.

    We’ve had our share of projected elite players fall short of expectation, which makes some people skeptical.

    I wouldn’t worry about LD – not one bit.

    • camdog

      If only the Oilers would have listened to you and played LD at centre from about November/December we wouldn’t be having this discussion ;). So is LD a wingman/winger or is he a centre? I think there should be no doubt he’s a centre, but how much offense is he going to produce at centre? I think he’ll do just fine, but I don’t know 100% and that’s why I expect a bridge deal. I’d be willing to pay LD the centre about 1-2 million more per season than LD the winger.

      Now what to deal with RnH, he should have been converted to the wing about November/December of last season.

  • Hemmercules

    Leon’s vision and passing are elite, give the guy a winger that can bury those gifts in front of the net and he will be fine without McDavid. He’s got all the tools of a great centerman. Size, hands, skill and tons of determination. At the moment I don’t think there is much panic to seperate them right now with the centre depth they have but Nuge probably needs to go at some point purely because of his cap hit. I’m thinking they split Drai this year as a winger with McD and a centre on his own line. The playoffs was a small sample but if he can elevate his game at the toughest time of year and even play well without Mcdavid thats a really good sign. I think he gets 5 years/8 mil.

      • Hemmercules

        Good call. Maybe 4yrs/8 mil?? Really hard contract to predict. I think he’s a million dollars better than Little Jonny hockey but the term is going to be a tough decision. Wouldn’t it be nice to have both Leon and McD at a 20 mil cap hit for the next 8 years.

  • Redbird62

    Matt – What are your sources for the GF%? Stats.Hockey.Analysis.com shows their combined GF60 5 on 5 at 3.67, and apart Draisaitl at 2.28 and McDavid at 3.32. I agree this is a small sample size, but its the same amount of data people are using to say his performance is elite. Draisailt scored 9 points in 2 playoff games against the one team he had his most success against in the regular season. Of the 13 points Draisaitl scored in the Ducks series, 5 were without McDavid on the ice (including one EN), 5 were on the powerplay, and 3 were with McDavid on the ice 5 on 5. So McDavid still played a part in many of Draisaitl points in that series. His 5 points away from McDavid is still excellent, but it is still one series. McDavid’s output in that series was not great, though he still had the most shots of any Oiler. However, it was McDavid who had to play against Kesler the whole series, who is one of the top 3 defensive centers in the game.

    We’re doing the same thing on these blogs as the Oilers and Draisaitl’s team are doing in the salary negotiations. Those advocating higher salary (Draisaitl and his agent) will point out everything he does right. Those arguing for a lower salary (Oilers management) point out the flaws. I still think Draisaitl has the potential to be a great player, and have liked what he’s done, but in both watching him play and looking at the other evidence, I view him worth $7.0 to $7.5 million at this time, that is still a great salary putting him high on the list of NHL forwards. Most guys making more than that have either earned it over a longer period of time or are Connor McDavid.

    • JimmyV1965

      Don’t forget the crucial game 5 against the Sharks. Drai made an incredible pass to Desharnais to win the game and another amazing pass earlier in the game that he threaded through four players battling in front of the net to find Letestu for an open net. That’s what makes him the real deal. He’s not better than McDavid but I’m not sure anyone else in the league can make that pass to Letestu for the open netter.

  • Oiler Al

    Time for McLellan to give Dri his own line.! Power Play and the odd “push shift”, should see these two guys together.
    The problem for the Oilers is that now they have three strong centers , but wingers that shoot cup cakes from 50 feet out.[OK one cup cake is gone]Snipers are in need here.?

    • Randaman

      Really? Who is the third strong Center. I key on the word STRONG! Am I missing something? 43% in the face off circle is not strong, his play on the boards is far from strong, his defensive game is good, not great but good. Too much money for a third line Center. Put him on McDavid’s wing or on Leon’s wing.

  • madjam

    Why would one want to split their time together when it leads to NHL top two performances for a duo ? Now , Oilers need to find a secondary duo capable of scoring to add to what that duo has . Like a Gretzky Kurri duo . Breaking them up is not nearly as beneficial as playing them as a duo most of the time . Both are still effective away from one another – just not as effective as when together and that’s to be expected. Draisaitl’s history from youth , junior and now NHL shows he has a high degree of success come playoff times . That’s a given , most think only a 13 game NHL is not enough of a sample size to determine his worth or probable future playoff superiority . It is , and he did it suffering a bad cold thru part of it . Nothing points to Leon leveling out as yet , and same for Connor . Both should exceed last year over the next few years .

    • Redbird62

      First of all, other than if a few games in the playoffs against Anaheim, Draisaitl’s production away from McDavid over the last two years 5 on 5, was significantly below his production with him, (almost a goal less per 60 minutes) and that includes Draisaitl’s time with Hall. McDavid on the other hand only showed a slight drop off without Draisaitl of about .25 goals per 60. I think people are hoping that in comparison to the old Oilers McDavid/Draisaitl will be Gretzky/Messier rather than Gretzky/Kurri and since Draisaitl is a natural center that has appeal. And while Kurri was an important side kick to Gretzky, Messier was the definite number 2 of forwards on that team for winning Stanley Cups. Maybe on McDavid’s wing is where he is best, but if that is the case, he would be worth less to the Oilers than if can be a star performer as the number 2 center.

      Regarding your point on Draisailt’s playoff prowess, yes he had a great playoff this year, and when he was 19 playing for the Kelowna Rockets. Prince Albert didn’t get very far with him in the prior 2 years, though he played okay. Taylor Hall, as a 17 year old and 18 year old won 2 memorial cups with 2 MVP’s. After his first 2 seasons with the Oilers, which were better than Draisaitl’s first 2, he was awarded a contract worth 10% of the Oiler’s salary cap. Hall hasn’t been able to prove himself in the NHL playoffs, but that is not entirely his fault. 10% now would be $7.5 million for Draisaitl.

  • Tombstone

    The reason why Leon went to RW was because Eberle couldn’t do his job. Furthermore,Oilers didn’t have any depth on the wings to run McDavid, Leon, and Nuge as C. Member how many players that were cycle through the press box. It was every other forward except Lucic, Ebs, RNH, Leon, and McDavid.

    • Eberle couldn’t get to the slot. I’m very curious to see how Strome will work out on McDavid’s right side. In viewing the Strome videos, it appears he likes to use some of his size to go to the slot more. I can see where McDavid will deke up the middle and bring opposing defenders with him to drop the puck to Strome, who shoots, causing a rebound, and the Big Rig hammers in and puts the garbage away. I think they try this first before putting Draisaitl back to 1RW, which seems to be the default. However, Draisaitl needs to drive his own line has he showed he can do. When Puljujarvi proves himself, ideally we’d want:

      Maroon – McDavid – Puljujarvi
      Lucic – Draisaitl – Strome
      Jokinen – Nuge – Slepyshev
      Caggiula/Khaira – Letestu – Kassian/Pakarainen

      When Nuge gets traded for draft picks and/or prospects to keep the cap down, look for Jokinen to move to 3C and Caggiula on his left. That’s another reason among many that Jokinen was signed.

      • JimmyV1965

        Don’t expect Strome to play a physical game. You’ll be disapoiunted. And RNH does not need to be traded this year. There’s lots of cap room. Jokinnen has never been a full time centre. That’s not why they traded for him.

  • oilerjed

    The Oil are doing what they should be for Leon, bringing him along at a sustainable pace where he is realizing a ton of success. In Leon’s first full year, keeping him out of center and playing him on the wing while he gets his feet under him seems exceptionally reasonable and patient. It is a nice switch from the previous Oiler development norm of throwing them to the wolves.
    I expect McClellan to have a very different look to our top two lines this year and figure Drai will be the centerpiece on the second line.
    For me a big question is faceoffs on the top line. Drai was the one who took the majority of draws last year where McDavids FO% was sub .500.
    There is going to be a pretty big adjustment curve in the first half of the season and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  • ed from edmonton

    I might be this site’s leading LD fan. We are seeing start of his development with plenty of upside to some. I am convinced his long term position in center but it is not imperitive he plays center in the coming year. If the Oil find a suitable RW for McD having Mcd/LD/RNH as centers would be the best group in the league. The Strome/Ebs trade gives McClelland a lot of options. It will be interesting to see how things work out.

  • fasteddy

    One point I feel gets overlooked; if you take these points per 60 min at even strength and apply the math it works out to roughly a 9 point difference……Had Drai played all of his ES min with 97 he would have 9 more points than if he played 0 min with him…..point being we aren’t exactly talking earth shattering differences here.