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Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t matter who plays with Connor McDavid

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?

  • RJ

    Caggiula has the worst stats with McDavid. But he also logged that time when McDavid was ill and lost 15 lbs.

    How much of this is tied to peaks and valleys in McDavid’s play?

    If Caggiula was playing now while McDavid is red-hot, would the data change significantly?

  • Simba99

    Look a Pittsburgh Chicago Tampa they all had nobodies play with their top guys. Let Rattie play or any other farm kid they can only get better cause we ain’t getting another 6 million dollar man any time soon cause of Pete you see what lucic got us. So let the kids play there could be some diamond in the ruff. Besides I’d rather watch the entire farm team play then have to watch lucic finish off the year

  • nbandito

    If we’re only looking at these numbers, they tell me Drai, and Pulju should be playing with mcD, and Nuge, Lucic and maybe Slepy on line 2…and we should prob get Maroon back.

    • Rama Lama

      I was meaning Gretzky had already played professional hockey with guys not named Kurri……..I recall some guy named BJ McDonald who had 40 some goals playing with him before Kurri came along. The dates are becoming fuzzy the older I get……..Not sure when Kurri started playing in the NHL.

  • pkam

    So according to this chart, the only players who can perform better without McDavid is Maroon? Didn’t I hear in ON just before the trade that Maroon is useless without McDavid?

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    You know what’s really funny…there was a time when the only thing we had was wingers (except for Nuge).

    Wait a minute; that’s not funny at all. It actually makes me kinda sad. ?The Oilers had all kinds of assets. Now they are totally screwed. Hopefully we can catch a flyer in the third/forth round of the draft. It’s our only hope…

  • Hemmercules

    McDavid is the team. Plain and simple. Without him they likely would have broken the record for worst season in NHL history. Watching the highlights on tv lately they don’t even say “Oilers” anymore half the time, its Mcdavid vs whoever they are playing.

  • Quoteright

    I’ve been saying this for ever
    Also chemistry is something that the oilers need to actually stick with
    Nuge has never had anyone but boat anchors or having to be the responsible one with hall and ebs
    Nuge drai and pool party would look good

  • Rama Lama

    I wonder if Gretzky thought he would be better without Kurri………….the problem McDavid does not have a Kurri to play with. It took a while for Sather to find Kurri.

    The problem is could PC find a Kurri or is it more likely he will find another 3 dressed up as a 9? I’m saying PC does not have the ability to find McDavid a proper sniper to play with……just a hunch.

  • D

    I think if this article was titled “it doesn’t matter which Oiler plays with Connor McDavid”, there would be fewer objections. 1. The title would reflect the poor job that management has done assembling a supporting cast. 2. The title would cut-off any arguments such as “so you’re saying that if Kucherov was McDavid’s winger, it wouldn’t make a difference?”

  • Summercrush

    It doesn’t matter who plays with Connor McDavid?
    Yes it does.
    Put a pending RFA with McDavid chances are you will be paying that player more money.
    Put a player like Maroon with McDavid chances are you will be getting nothing at trade value.
    Put a player Like Lucic with McDavid and he will slow down.
    Why do people think McDavid is here to help bottom 6 players score goals?

  • DannyGallivan

    Makes me wonder where we would be if we hadn’t have stumbled into winning the McJesus lottery. Can’t say the GM and Coach have done a lot around him except made a bucket load of bad trades and set up the worst PP and PK in the league – it is difficult to be the worst at both and even more difficult with the best player in the league.

    McJesus will drive the first line. I am more concerned about the second line and Dr. Drai. How do we get more out of them?

    BTW: G/60 this year, CM=1.31, RNH=1.25, LD=1.00, ML=0.51 and JK=0.88. Last season LD=1.12, RNH=0.74 and ML=0.98. The question is, how do we get LD and ML back to form (second line) and why in the hell would you ever trade your second best scorer who is playing substantially better w/o McJesus (for most of the season)!

  • camdog

    If you look at our wingers and think to yourselves would this winger be playing top 9 in another organisation in the league? If you have to ask that question in respect to the wingers on each and every forward combination you soon realize the Oilers problem. Over the last few years we Oiler fans have conditioned ourselves into believing wingers aren’t important, this simply is not true. If you have poor wingers not only do you have decreased potential in your offensive game you’ll have trouble in d-zone. Many Oiler wingers aren’t good at providing a target on break out. Right now the Oilers don’t need an expensive winger as much as another 3 legitimate top 9 wingers.

    • IRONman

      McDavid is on 44% of the Oilers goals. McDavid is the team Totally!!! 97 and 29. Nuge does a excellent job on 2nd line center. Find some decent winger is the trick. See the 62% for Leon with 97 and 40% w/o McDavid. Ya. Proof is there, plus they are soo awesome to watch together.

      • Not McDavid's Fault

        That top line you love is also roughly 27% of the cap next year if you have a 1 mill plug on lw. Be danm near impossible to find decent winger for nuge on the secound line. And forget about a backup goalie upgrade in case Talbot was a rough year again.if Drai can only produce with Mcdavid you have to trade him. Its hard to have depth scoring if your 2 highest played players are on the same line.

  • Kepler62c

    Really good article and a good take on the situation – the numbers don’t lie. Sure, it looks great when McDavid+Nuge or McDavid+Draisaitl make magic – but the reality is McDavid’s wings might be the best spot for slumping forwards and boosting the confidence of rookies/tweeners.

    Lucic – McDavid – Rattie
    Nuge – Draisaitl – Cammaleri
    Slepy – Strome – Puljujarvi
    Caggiula – Khaira – Kassian

    Is that a winning combination?

  • Arfguy

    It is amazing that McDavid can basically improve the players who is on his line, no matter how bad you are. The problem is, you become too reliant on McDavid to do all the work and the offensive attack becomes predictable.

    Why is it that no one can rush the offensive zone without McDavid? The Oilers put up 7 goals tonight, but I saw so many rushes neutralized because players were either running into each other or running out of space or dumping and failing to chase.

    At this point, I think someone needs to encourage the other players to learn how to rush more. There’s about 10 more games left…you need to start experimenting with things now, since the season is lost.