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Photo Credit: © Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Where should Leon Draisaitl play?

The list of holes that the Oilers will need to fill this offseason is long. One of the items that most believe should be on that list is a winger who can step in and score on Connor McDavid’s wing, but the more I think about that, the more unnecessary it seems.

Put salaries and names aside and it’s more than clear that the Oilers already have that piece, and he wears #29.

Leon Draisaitl has proven through different points over the past two seasons that when he’s on Connor McDavid’s wing, he can be an elite offensive producer.

Now looking ahead, the general consensus is that to maximize Leon Draisaitl and his $8.5million cap hit, he needs to drive the second line of this team and for the most part, I agree with that. But does it have to be that way? Absolutely not, and I think there’s a decent argument for keeping the two stars side-by-side long term.

COMPARABLES

Feb 14, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates after scoring a goal on Arizona Coyotes goaltender Louis Domingue (35) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, there are four other right-wingers who have a cap hit of more than $8 million.

Patrick Kane is the highest paid at $10.5 million he’s averaged 1.18 points per game over the past two full seasons. That’s actually solid value at $10.5 million in my eyes. The other angle that Kane drives his own line. He’s almost all of the past two seasons with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. By no means are those two slouches, but it’s clear that Kane drove the offence.

Corey Perry has a cap hit of $8.625 and has averaged 0.70 points per game, most of those points coming alongside Ryan Getzlaf. This might be a better comparable for Draisaitl-McDavid because its an example of paying a premium for a winger, who completes a 1-2 punch.

Jakub Voracek makes $8.25 million and has averaged 0.74 points per game. Similar to Perry, Voracek spent most of his time at even strength riding shotgun with Claude Giroux.

Phil Kessel comes in at $8.0 million and has averaged 0.78 points per game over the past two years. His linemates haven’t been consistent, but Kessel is a good example of a winger being paid a premium to produce offence.

Now that brings me to Leon Draisaitl. He’ll be earning $8.5 million until 2024-25 and over the past two seasons has averaged 0.83 points per game. Compared to the other high-paid right-wingers, that’s solid production.

Now for most of that, he was riding next to Connor McDavid, who’s better than any of the linemates that the above players had a chance to play with, which you could argue boosted his point totals in 16/17. The flip side of that is the idea that you need to be skilled to keep up and consistently make plays with a player like #97, which is fair.

But if we simply look at his straight up point production, cap hit and production when compared to other high-paid right wingers, you can make the argument that Leon isn’t exactly overpaid as the Oilers top line right-winger. Yes, none of those players have the luxury of Connor McDavid, but you can’t discount the chemistry that the two young Oilers have. It’s tough to find players who can keep up and think the game at the same level as McDavid, and Leon can do all of that.

The other thing to remember is age. Leon is only 22 years old and the four players I compared him to are significantly older. Kane is 29, Perry is 32, Voracek is 28 and Kessel is 30. As Leon continues to develop and the cap continues to go up, his contract only becomes more of a bargain.

Right now, $8.5 million isn’t a great deal. But what about when Leon enters the prime years of his career? Or when the NHL’s salary cap continues to rise? This is a dang good contract, even if it doesn’t look exceptional right now.

One element he brings that the four comparables don’t is the ability to shift between right wing and centre. If injury hits, which it always does, Todd McLellan has flexibility to play Draisaitl at either position. He also takes some responsibility away from Connor McDavid. We’ve seen Leon take a large share of the faceoffs when he’s on the ice with McDavid which not only increases the Oilers chances of getting possession off the draw, it also allows McDavid to move more freely off the draw.

When the Oilers signed Leon to his big extension, Peter Chiarelli essentially said that the team was paying him to be a centre, which I think was a mistake. It created the expectation that for the big German to live up to the contract, he needed to drive his own line.

Having Draisaitl at centre no doubt improves the depth of this team, but with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins proving this year that he’s a capable second line centre, there isn’t necessarily a need to have Draisaitl down the middle.

Another angle in all of this, it’s a waste to have Leon Draisaitl on his own line and not give him strong wingers. I believe that’s part of the reason his play has suffered at times this season. I think he’s a legitimate #1 centerman, and he can play on his own line. But he’s dynamite with McDavid and I don’t think we should be so quick to dismiss the idea of this being a long-term fit.

If Leon were to be a fixture on Connor McDavid’s wing, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is cemented as the #2 centre, it would move the hole the Oilers need to fill from a top-line scoring winger, to serviceable third line centre. Which one of those seems easier to fill? And maybe more importantly, which one is a cheaper hole to fill?

My personal opinion is that this team will be better suited if they can create three solid scoring lines. Most hear that idea and immediately pair it with the thought that #97, #93 and #29 all need to be on different lines. But I don’t think it needs to be that way.

  • OilersBro

    3 scoring lines with 97, 93, and 29 spread out is ideal however, that all depends on whether or not we have scoring wingers. In a few years, we might be okay up the right side with yamo and pulu, and slepy developing nicely but our left wing in comparison will be old and slow.
    If the opportunity to grab some young developing LW talent for a UFA this season arises, I say we do it.

    • GK1980

      The oilers need a legite shutdown line if not two. Scoring will come but man they need to play better D overall. The 3 and 4th line need to be able to shut down the opposition. Like seriously shut them down, play the trap or whatever boring trap game you want at least it wins games.

      Drai as winger is cool, but he needs to be a better PP guy.

  • ScottV

    Short term thinking – playing Drai on the wing.

    Classic – elegant big man in the middle, who is obviously going to become an excellent top end world class two way centreman. You dont put this kind of thing on the wing.

    The only reason to consider it short term is lack of the right complimentary wingers to support McD and Drai. Nuge is in the way. He should be traded for one of those kind of guys in some sort of package.

    It was short term thinking last year and desperation thinking this year.

    If Drai had been groomed as a 2 or 3c depending on performance vs Nuge (would have been 2c most nights), he would have had a decent developmental centreman season and probably would have signed at 6 / 7 mil for 10 years.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Draisaitl on 1RW is ok with me on two conditions and a caveat: McDavid/Drai connect for 100+/70+ points consistently, and Nuge proves the 2C spot is his for good. The caveat being that Chia isn’t forced to trade Nuge due to the cap situation. $20 million+ in salary for 2 players is a lot of cheddar, but if they’re producing and the cap continues to rise, I think it makes sense to load up your top line into an unstoppable killing machine.

    My sanity is hanging by a thread, Chia trading Nuge would be the thing that snaps it. He better do absolutely everything in his power to unload Lucic and/or Russell before Nuge.

    • MrBung

      Given how badly Chia has damaged this team (cap issues, bleeding of assets/picks, etc), they are going to be hard-pressed to make the changes to get back into the playoffs in the next 1-2 years.

  • vetinari

    The season is toast and all playoff dreams this year are dead. We are now working out kinks on special teams, defence and the wings and holding auditions for next year. Our long term health requires Draisaitl to drive a line, whether from the centre position or on the second line wing– he cannot always be riding McDavid’s coat tails and there is no point in posting him there for the remainder of the year. I’d be trying him on second line combo’s, away from McDavid, to see if there are any winners with Draisaitl at either centre or on the wing. Ideally, if he could pair with another forward who can play centre or wing (Strome? Cagguila? New player obtained from trading Maroon?), that would be best as it would allow the coach to go with who is hot in the faceoff circle and switch them back and forth.

  • ubermiguel

    That 84-85 Oilers celebration on Sunday was great fun, but also a bitter reminder just how bad the Oilers have been for a decade. The problems are so far beyond “where should Draisaitl” play it’s laughable.

  • TKB2677

    You as a team are paying him 8.5 mill.
    Your GM came out after the contract and said part of the reason he paid more than some wingers recently signed is because he sees him as a center.
    I like Nuge and no disrespect to him but Leon is easily your second best offensive center and it’s not close.
    Leon is one of your best faceoff men on the team.
    He’s easily your second best player on your team.
    You desperately need someone to drive your second line and Leon is capable of doing that.

    You as a team need all of that and you have a player capable of doing that so why the hell would you put him on McDavid’s line?? I don’t care if they have some chemistry, this is about the team winning. If McLellan is reluctant to keep Leon at center, then that is where the GM needs to step in and make the call. If McLellan doesn’t like it, he can go.

    • TKB2677

      I agree about Nuge on the wing. I don’t get why McLellan didn’t try it before he was injured. Nuge is a decent second line center but Leon is superior. You put Leon on almost any other team, he’s their #1 center. So why McLellan wants to water down his lines by playing Nuge at center and Leon on the wing is baffling to me.

  • OnDaWagon

    The biggest difference this year, is, the play of Cam Talbot. If he would have been as good, or, near as good as last year, playoffs would likely be available.
    So it doesn’t matter where you put Leon, if you don’t have what you need in net.

    • hagar

      Talbot has been poor to be sure, allowing the first shot of the game in 20 percent of the time is as staggering a stat as our home pk though.
      I don’t give a pass to poor goalie performance, but it is truly the only position on the team that can single handed cause your team losses, it is too important to have waiver, and thus is a lot easier to blame as a sole reason for failure.
      Every player on the team besides mcdavid has played as many bad games this year as talbot, it just doesn’t destroy an entire game like a goalie can.
      The entire team/coaching/management is to blame (again besides mcdavid lol.)

  • btrain

    I just don’t see how any of these guys listed are good comparisons to the Draisaitl/McDavid situation. None of them (I would also throw Hall into that group), except for maybe Perry, require an elite center to drive offense. This is why they get paid the big bucks, as a team can then throw their best center on a different line more often then not (Toewes away from Kane, Kessel away from Crosby/ sometimes even Malkin as well, Vorecek can still produce away from Giroux).

    A generational talent like McDavid, should not require an elite line driving winger. He requires competent skill, like Crosby and even if they only produce average first line offense, having another line putting up 1st line offense as well, is what wins cups. This is what Draisaitl, and his potential, represents for the Oilers. As long as he and McDavid play together on a regular basis, in my opinion, it will be a reflection of a desperate team lacking sufficient options.

  • Gravis82

    McDavid, Draisaitl and Nuge should be the top line. Make strome a 2nd line center and hope he comes around.

    This way, we only need to find 2nd-4th line wingers and a 3rd-4th line center…these players are a lot cheaper. Keep JJ and JP obviously.

  • camdog

    Worst part of this season is we still don’t know how Hopkins looks on McDavid’s wing. With this team and these players moving forward the best line up is McDavid and Leon at centre and possibly Hopkins on McDavid’s wing, shifting around the line up as required. Unfortunately we have a group of coaches unable to adapt and then Hopkins got hurt.

    So the question is what kind of player is Hopkins on the wing? You’d think the organisation would want to know that before the off season or before they traded him.

    Another option would be to play LD with the wingers that dominated during last years playoffs. Of course we don’t know if that will work because the coaches haven’t really tried it…

  • KennyG

    They were show casing RNH at Center because that’s where he’s playing on his next team. You won’t see him with mcd unless his injury has stopped all trade talks and teams now are offering next to nothing. We will get less than Ebs deal if he’s let go. This team has to work its problems out on there own with new coach at the very least.

    • camdog

      Looks like the same method as used with Cogliano. Showcase him at centre, trade him for next to nothing and then watch another team convert him to an even better winger. It’s like nothing has changed the past dozen years.

  • Whaler

    I’m a huge LD fan, but what would a trade for Erik Karlson look like? If sens don’t anticipate they can sign him, what more would they want back then a young stud centre. Of course signing a long term contract would be part of the deal, would our team not be better off? Or even Arizona desperate for help at centre what about OEL plus a prospect or pick. Any thoughts?

    • camdog

      Cap hell – that would be 24 million between Connor and new d-man plus guaranteed 6 for Lucic for 30 million tied up in 3 players. You might be able to off load a Sekera/Russell/Klefbom in an deal, but the cap implications would be difficult to navigate. For it to work you’d need a stable of good young prospects ready to play in NHL on entry level deals. Oilers don’t have that.

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    When TMac finally gets smart and throws ol Nugey out with McDavid on his wing, I have a feeling that McDavid will give him a look akin to (NUGE where have you been all my life brother??)

    So yes. On wing all day long and most definitely on the PP. At 5v5 When either of 97 or 29 get tossed from the dot, he’s a nice secondary pull. I think he’s the one player we have good enough to make Connor and Leon better.