Ty Rattie was called up last week from the Bakersfield Condors and was immediately placed on Connor McDavid’s wing on the first line. It immediately sparked some controversy among Oilers fans as many asked “why not this guy instead!” and “Connor needs better wingers!” in response to an AHL tweener being given a golden opportunity to find chemistry with the league’s best player.
In two games in Florida over the weekend, Rattie scored two goals and had an assist. Previously for his NHL career, Rattie had four goals and six assists in 37 games. No, of course, this is a ridiculously small sample size, but Rattie’s results with McDavid last weekend got me thinking about how much we should actually concern ourselves with who’s playing alongside Connor McDavid.
I went through Natural Stat Trick and looked at all the forwards on the Oilers who have played at least 60 even strength minutes with McDavid this season to compare how they do with him and how they do without him. The results really aren’t surprising, but they’re kind of jarring to look at.
For those who aren’t familiar with this stat, it’s goals for percentage at even strength, which means that player’s share of the total goals scored when they’re on the ice. This stat ultimately seeks to do what +/- does in a much better way. On the chart, it’s broken down into how a player does with McDavid, how that same player does without McDavid, and how McDavid does without that player. I’ve sorted it by time on ice together.
So, as you can see, everyone is really, really bad without McDavid. Like, terrible. The only players on the team that were passable without McDavid on the ice with them are Patrick Maroon, who’s now been dealt to the New Jersey Devils, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a guy who we’ve adamantly argued could be a great trigger-man with McDavid.
Then, beyond that, you’ll notice that McDavid is good with everyone. No matter who slides on or off his wing, he produces. Obviously, he produces at an elite clip with some guys like Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl (and Cammalleri???) but he’s a positive goal differential player when on the ice with every forward on the team other than Drake Caggiula. It’s pretty obvious that McDavid is actually as good as we all think he is and he can drive a line by himself.
That’s great. It’s incredible to have a player that’s so good he can produce with literally anybody he’s thrown out there with. But then on the other side of the coin, you have the hideous numbers everyone is putting up without him. When looking at Oilers’ forwards GF% without McDavid, you get damning results. There are three players at or above 50 per cent, and only one of them has a sample size worth mentioning. That, again, is Maroon.
What does all of this mean? It means the Oilers need to figure out how to assemble their pieces behind McDavid to generate depth offence. We’ve talked at length about how important it is for McDavid to have a winger like Nugent-Hopkins because the two could be dynamite, how dominant he and Draisaitl are as a pair, and even how he and Puljujarvi could be this great tandem. But, really, the Oilers need to take a step back and figure out the dominant combination without McDavid.
For all the “who should play with McDavid, is it Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins?!?” talk, there isn’t enough talk about possibly putting those two aforementioned players on a line together. Those are Edmonton’s second- and third-best forwards and they’ve played just 65:01 together at even strength his year. If you have players being paid money to drive their own lines, do they really need to be playing minutes with McDavid when anyone can excel with him?