Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: The Dynamic Duo

The last couple of weeks, I’ve asked Oilersnation what the team should do in regards to its fringe forwards and defencemen. These questions about which depth players will crack the roster will largely be sorted based on pre-season games, which was the general consensus in the comments section. This week, I ask another lineup question, this time about Edmonton’s two best players — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Last week, Rob Tychkowski reported that Todd McLellan said the Oilers would begin the season with McDavid and Draisaitl, last year’s dynamic duo that produced two-thirds of one of the best lines in hockey, will start the season apart. He also went on to say that he wasn’t going to close the door on it and that the two could end up playing together at some point in the season.

Today’s What Would You Do Wednesday question is how should the Oilers optimize their two star forwards? Should McDavid and Draisaitl play together, giving Edmonton a ridiculously dominant top line that continues to build on the chemistry the two found last season? Or should they be separated, potentially giving the Oilers a dominant one-two punch down the middle?

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The case to keep them together…

I think the highlight video above is a perfect representation of how dominant McDavid and Draisaitl were when they played together last season. In that particular clip, the duo are all over the ice, driving play forward, and creating chances in the offensive zone. The overtime goal, though it’s three-on-three, is a perfect example of how Draisaitl is one of very few players who boast a big, strong frame with the capacity to play physically but also the skill and speed to keep up with McDavid.

When on the ice together last season (looking at 660 even strength minutes), the duo had 53.2 per cent of the total shot attempts, 58.1 per cent of total high danger scoring chances, and 62 per cent of the total goals. That’s very, very good.

Draisaitl’s underlying numbers were quite a bit better with McDavid than without. That isn’t really a surprise. Everyone is going to be better when they play with the league’s Most Valuable Player. In 500 even strength minutes without McDavid, Draisaitl posted a 47.5 Corsi For percentage, a 44.0 Dangerous Shots For percentage, and a 46.7 Goals For percentage. That said, McDavid wasn’t the only one pushing the duo’s success, as the captain’s numbers improved when playing alongside Draisaitl by a decent margin.

Long story short, both players make each other better. Chemistry certainly is a thing in hockey. Even though McDavid is amazing and can make pretty much anyone good, he wasn’t able to find success with guys like Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic who have had quite a bit of success in the NHL before. With Draisaitl, though, McDavid had some of the best results of his career, and the Oilers prospered because of it.

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The case to split them up…

I don’t think Leon’s numbers away from McDavid last season really do justice. Maybe I’m cherrypicking because I’m optimistic about him as a player, but I would rather look at his dominant player performance as an indication of who he is than his 500 even strength minutes with a blender of non-McDavid teammates.

Draisaitl was Edmonton’s best player in the playoffs last season. Better than McDavid. He netted six goals and 10 assists in 13 games, leading the team in both goals and points. He was especially dominant in that sixth game against Anaheim at home after the terrible meltdown in Game 5 in Anaheim. That game, Draisaitl answered when Edmonton needed him most. McDavid was being chipped away at by Ryan Kesler, one of the best defensive pests in the game, and Draisaitl stepped up and made a fool of the Ducks, dominating play down low, creating chances in the offensive zone, and potting three goals.

He certainly wasn’t being carried by McDavid as the numbers from last regular season would suggest to a blind observer. But McDavid still played a role in Draisaitl’s success. The Ducks inevitably were forced to put Kesler and the team’s top defencemen out against McDavid, because, well, obviously. As a result, Draisaitl didn’t have to deal with that competition. That’s the biggest pro to splitting the two up — it makes the Oilers virtually impossible to line match against.

This is also the role Draisaitl is being paid to play in. To be completely honest, you simply can’t be paying a player $8.5 million annually to ride shotgun on McDavid’s line when players like Patrick Maroon, Drake Caggiula, or Ryan Strome with cheap price tags can be successful in the role. Also, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, unfortunately, hasn’t proved that he can capitalize on the soft minutes that become available to him if McDavid and Draisaitl are attracting top competition.

I really liked what I saw from Draisaitl in his first pre-season game in Calgary. He looked fast, strong, and motivated, and was pushing play forward and driving offence. Check out that second highlight where he plows through all of Calgary’s defenders and opens up the ice for silky Kailer Yamamoto to bury his first goal as an Oiler. In the same vein, I quite liked Strome and Maroon with McDavid in the other pre-season game. We already know Maroon excels in that shotgun role, but Strome as the third guy in the trio was a question mark. His size and skill should make him successful alongside McDavid, who’s better than anyone at getting the puck to the net.

What say you, Oilers Nation? Should Draisaitl and McDavid stick together and form a dominant line that can crush any D pairing in the league? Or should they split up and drive two lines themselves? 

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  • OriginalPouzar

    There is a nuance to what McLellan said that makes part of this entry not quite correct. McLellan didn’t say that Drai and McDavid would start the “season” apart, he stated they would start the “preseason” apart.

    With that said, of course, the plan is to start the season with them apart if preseason goes well.

    Its fairly obvious that, assuming Drai is able to produce effectively outside of McDavid, this is the better set-up for long term success.

    I don’t care about his contract – nobody “needs” to play in certain parts of the lineup due to contract – McLellan will deploy his roster and his bench in the way that he believes gives his team the best chance to win the game. Hopefully that is with these two at 1C and 2C the majority of the time.

  • freelancer

    Separate Draisaitl and McDavid. They will get plenty of opportunities to play together on the 1st PP unit or if the team is down late in a game McLellan can shorten his bench and play them together.

  • Space Pants

    Drai is a work horse with a fire in his belly to win and I think he’s going to try his hardest to live up to McLellan’s quote last year that “he could be the best player on the team.” I’m with the consensus of starting them apart to have an amazing one two punch.

  • Hemi

    That picture of both CM & LD sends shivers down the spines of all opposing teams and their fans. I love it!
    T-Mac is a coach who knows how damn lucky he is in having these two fabulous players under his coaching direction. There is no doubt that both players will be leaders seperately on the ice at different times and possibly even more so when playing together at strategic points of the game.

    They are both stars in their own right and will shine as such. They also the the ability to shine just as bright as linemates as well. Not a bad situation for the coach/team and us fans to be in.

    For those whom seem to only see the amount of their contracts to find fault, the on-ice performance should ease that negativity. Many entertaining moments for years to come.

    Go OIL!

  • Mitch92

    What will determine how long CMD and Drai stay separated will be the production of their wingers, especially McDavid’s. Can Strome continue to produce having been gifted top line minutes beside the best young player in the game? If Strome finds the back of the net with regularity then Drai can continue producing from the second line and he can join McDavid on the first PP unit.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Like the idea of starting them apart and putting them together if the team needs a jump. With McD, Drai, and Nuge down the middle, that’s a tough thing for teams to handle when trying to defend. McDavid will get his points no matter what, and Lucic and Drai on a line together is a fearsome combo of size and skill. If Strome works out with McDavid, that seals the deal.

  • I like the idea of separating them. I think it’ll be better long-term for Draisaitl, I feel he can grow more into a leader and mature more if he drives his own line instead of just riding shotgun with McDavid. The hope is Draisaitl and Lucic gel together, that would be alot of other team’s first lines(including some playoff teams), if things work out we have 2 great lines we could really push teams with and not give them any breathers to comeback and gain momentum and we all know from that Aneheim series how important holding the game and keeping the foot on the gas is.

  • OilCan2

    No matter what I say about CMD & Leon (1C – 2C) Todd will have them together (1PP) at some point every game. We now have a team large enough to rush the net for stray biscuits on rebounds so a big measure of success will be the wingers being able to cash in on BOTH the top lines.
    IF the NHL sticks to calling more cheap stickwork and interference the Oilers are going to be a dominant force this season. My bet is the Oil will fill rinks around the league and maybe the NHL Brass will catch on that they have a much better product when they showcase speed, skill and great playmaking.

  • JudgeDredd

    I think they are best on separate lines, it gives the Oilers that 1-2 and even 3 punch down the middle with Letestu anchoring the 4th. they’ll play 1st unit pp together and depending on the team or situation coach can play them together when needed. I think it all comes down to how Strome plays on McDavids wing though, if he can’t get the job done they don’t have anyone better than Drai to do it yet.

  • EzraElliott

    Just curious—and totally not meant to be argumentative—but do we have any actual evidence that McLellan intends to play McD and Drai together on the PP, as many here are assuming? I like the idea of playing them separately other than on the PP and late in a close games as much as everyone else in the comments section, but has McLellan indicated that he doesn’t plan on retaining this one-two punch on the PP? McLellan recently mentioned that he may expand his PP corps in light of the potential increase in PP time (due to the more strict enforcement of “stick-work”/”dot-work”), so is it possible that he may distribute his PP talent more evenly?

    • Rock11

      I think TMac understands that RNH is a PP wizard in his own right and will likely leave that half wall spot on the 2nd PP to him. Gives Nuge a chance to post some crooked numbers and leaves a dominant 1PP in place. This is why the assumption is being made in my opinion.

  • btrain

    I would prefer to split them but inevitably there will be times that they play together as well. Line combinations are a funny topic as they are rarely static yet we talk about them as if they will be set in stone. Anyway I think its more important to be dynamic, to have many viable line-up options, which is what the Oilers now have. Can’t wait for the season to start!