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.
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.