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Year in Review: Leon Draisaitl still needs to prove he can carry his own line

This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season. 

2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 29: Leon Draisaitl

GP: 75, G: 25, A: 45, PTS: 70

After a breakout season and incredible playoff performance, Leon Draisaitl was awarded a massive eight-year contract worth $68 million. It was a big chunk of cash to hand out, but, at the time, it was expected Draisaitl was going to help form a Crosby-Malkin calibre down the middle behind Connor McDavid.

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Right or wrong, fair or unfair, that contract will now shape how we view Draisaitl moving forward. In his first season after signing the deal, Draisaitl didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations of his $8.5 million cap hit.

At a quick glance, Draisaitl had a good season in 2017-18. He scored 70 points in 75 games, good for 34th in the league in scoring, his .90 points-per-game was just slightly below his total from 2016-17, and he had some of the best underlying shot metrics on the team. So, yeah, at a quick glance, that’s a good season.

But the discussion around Draisaitl can’t simply end there. Prior to signing his big contract, it had been pointed out that Draisaitl had never produced offence at a high level away from another elite, play-driving forward. In 2015-16, he spent a good chunk of time with Taylor Hall and enjoyed a successful season. In 2016-17, he and Connor McDavid found chemistry and formed one of the best lines in the NHL.

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The only time that Draisaitl showed an ability to carry his own line was during the 2017 playoffs. Draisaitl, during that playoff run, was undoubtedly Edmonton’s best player. Of course, a lot of this has to do with Connor McDavid being shadowed by Joe Pavelski and Ryan Kesler, two very good veteran defensive centres, but Draisaitl was an absolute force, putting up 16 points in 13 playoff games.

He wasn’t that same force for the Oilers in 2017-18, though, which is why I say he didn’t live up to that $8.5 million cap hit. When Peter Chiarelli gave Driasaitl that big contract, he was doing so based on the thought that the player Draisaitl was in the playoffs was the Draisaitl of the future. He was paid like a top-line centre, one who could drive a line, and, like I said earlier, form that Pittsburgh-esque one-two punch with McDavid.

Photo Credit: James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

As impressive and successful as 70 points in 75 games appears on the surface, unfortunately, Draisaitl was largely a product of McDavid.

McDavid and Draisaitl spent 498:33 together at even strength this season. During that time, the duo posted an extremely good 57.4 Goals For percentage, meaning they heavily outscored their opponents. In the time they spent apart? McDavid was still excellent, posting a 57.8 GF% while Draisaitl wasn’t on the ice with him. Draisaitl, in the 628:15 he played with McDavid on the bench, managed just a 42.4 GF%. That isn’t very good. It was the same deal during the 2016-17 season. In 2016-17, McDavid and Draisaitl posted a 59.4 GF% together and Draisaitl posted a 44.2 GF% by himself.

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I’ll give Draisaitl the benefit of the doubt here, though, because Edmonton’s wingers were terrible last season. While Draisaitl’s on-ice goal numbers away from McDavid were thoroughly unspectacular, his shot and scoring chance numbers were solid. Draisaitl’s even strength shot attempt differential away from McDavid was a respectable 50.4% and his scoring chance differential was a decent 49.7%. After McDavid, Draisaitl’s most frequent winger linemates last year were Patrick Maroon, who was good, and Milan Lucic, Drake Caggiula, and Mike Cammalleri who, uh, weren’t. So, to be fair to Draisaitl, he didn’t get much help from the wings when he was the team’s second centre last year.

Was it a disaster of a season for Draisaitl? No, absolutely not. Not even close. He’s still a very good player and, at the very least, is an elite winger playing alongside McDavid. The issue is, though, is that Edmonton needs him to be a good centre behind McDavid in order for the team to reach its full potential.

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The Oilers were a trainwreck without McDavid on the ice last season. If they’re going to contend for a Stanley Cup, Leon Draisaitl will need to play a bigger role than McDavid’s very good wingman. Instead, Leon Draisaitl needs to be the guy who dominates when McDavid is off the ice like he did back during the team’s 2017 playoff run. He’s only 22 years old, so I think it’s fair to say that the best of Draisaitl is yet to come.

  • Serious Gord

    Chia looks to have made a big bet on lucic and lost. Yet many – myself included – expected the latter part of his contract to be poor value – we just didn’t think (and hope it hasn’t) happened so darn early.

    But in time it may be draisaitl’s contract that was the greatest RISK taken by chia. With only one very good season behind him chia locked him up for 8×8.5.

    If LD doesn’t move forward in his career and drive his own line to greater success then he will be a bust – maybe the biggest one of all by chia.

    • MrBung

      Agreed. Drai still unproven as far as his ability to drive his own line for a season and against solid competition. Worth closer to 6 or 7 million cap hit.

      • Gravis82

        He would be worth 8.5 million with a 2 top 5 2nd line wi gets in the nhl.

        This is what we need to win a cup

        And this is the type of player Leon deserves to play with

        If he is not living up to his 1st line contract while playing second line with 3rd line players, we are missing the real cause of the problem here.

      • Ol_OneNut

        So ur saying he should be getting Evander Kane money even though he scores thirty more points a year and is a center and is 4 years younger? Is that what ur saying?

    • crabman

      Greatest risk taken by Chiarelli? Come on, a little drsmatic don’t you think?
      People are on here all the time talking about signing Nurse longterm to avoid needing to pay him big bucks like what happened to Montreal and Subban. Bridging Draisaitl would have been the comparable. A big strong, skilled, potential #1 center on a number of teams. The way salaries have gone up the past couple years and look to continue to go up do you think Draisaitl wouldn’t get at least his $8.5M, but probably more, at the end of s bridge deal in a year or 2?
      We are talking about him having s down year after scoring at s .9 pt/game rate with inferior wingers and a constant change in wingers as well. Players like Draisaitl are the types you make your big bets on. Not old UFAs you hope give you a few good years before they are way over paid.

      • Serious Gord

        Draisaitl was signed on the basis that of one season’s performance. As I understand it he has never signed anyone longer and for as much other than mcdavid. So who was a riskier signing?

        • crabman

          @Serious Gord,

          Lucic’s $6M×7 was a riskier signing. And it is already showing to be a bad risk. Who is more over paid between the 2? Who has a better chance of improving as a hockey player over the coarse if their contracts? And which contract will see the majority of the players prime?
          Before Draisaitl was signed I was hoping it would max out at $7.5M. He got $8.5M. A $1M overpay by my estimate. You are right he got his payday after 1 really good season. He was top 10 in scoring and was Edmonton’s best player in the playoffs. That player gets payed and is a good bet to make. If he was bridged I have to assume it would be a minimum of $5.5M+ and in a couple years he would make a lot more than $8.5M per the way contracts are going.

      • HOCKEY83

        Draisaitl is worth every penny of his 8.5 compared to some other players in the league getting the same or more. This kid is very nearly a point a game last 2 seasons and he’s a playoff performer. He comes alive in the playoffs. Getting down on him before he’s had a rough season…what’s the point? Last season the oil had 3 players trying to win while everyone else on the team just skated around and watched. McDavid Draisaitl and Nuge. Obviously McD has more talent than Drai but Drai has as much talent as any other player in the league that’s not a generational talent. Mcdavid and Drai do as much as they can with what they got to work with.

        • daryl

          No we are not getting down on him just pointing out the pitfalls of a 8.5 mil contract and the fact that he needs to run his own line and I think with JP and Reider he will run his own line just pointing out that with just one really good season Peter was oversold on his playoff potential.

      • McNugent

        Not necessarily. Everyone comes on here and complains about Chia overpaying this player 200k and this player 1 million.

        Unfortunately Chia will always have to overpay slightly, our tax percentage is one of the highest.

        For example: Leon Draisaitl makes $8.5 million in Edmonton and he will net $4.448 million, while Ryan Johansen makes $8 million in Nashville, but his net salary is still higher at $4.875 million.

        Whether we like it or not, tax implications will likely become more of a discussion point when looking at players salaries from team-to-team. It isn’t as easy as saying player “A” signed for $4 million, so player “B”, who is the same caliber, needs to sign for the same amount.

        Drai signing in Edm at 8.5 would be similar to him signing for 7.5 in Nashville.

    • That is an absolute stretch. Obviously he underperformed this year but so did the rest of the team, he’s 22 years old and only going to get better. A bridge deal would’ve been an even bigger risk. Alot of players slump abit after getting paid and go on to rebound the next season. No worries here, he’ll get an entire offseason without worrying about contract negotiations and can strictly focus on getting better