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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I believe if you put Draisaitl with Reider and JP/Yamo, good things will happen. Put Drai with Lucic and Caggiula and fans will call for his head at seasons end.

  • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • Casey.

      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

  • Big Nuggets

    This is why the Brodziak signing will pay off. Because Draisaitl needs to be set up for success with as many offensive zone starts as possible. Brodziak will handle the d-zone. Strome probably needs some sheltering as well.

    I want to see how high the hieghts of McNuge will be this season, but those Draisaitl numbers might make it worthwhile to see a Drai Nuge combo. Maybe if McNuge hits a slump anyway.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I don’t disagree. Anyones better with McDavid. Khaira, Strome (or whoever, that’s not important)?
      Would total goal production of the top two lines increase with say a
      Nuge, Drai, Reider line as the second? It would definately be harder to defend against & would more often than not leave one of our scores uncovered.
      Just some food for thought? Also, a PP line of Nuge McDavid Draisaitl is exciting…

  • daryl

    Still not sure why Peter paid so much Johnny Hockey was signed to less than 7mil would I prefer Leon yes but very debatable that he is worth nearly 2 mil more a year. To me we should have gotten Leon for 7.5 mil an extra mil could have locked up Darrell

    • a lg dubl dubl

      I look at the Tavares contract and think Leon’s is value. Even if Draisaitl nets 70-80 points for the duration, that’s not to shabby for a 2nd line center.

      • ed from edmonton

        Tavares scores at just under PPG during hos career, so there certainly is a valid comparison between the two. However, Tavares will get some or perhaps mostly 2nd line matchups which may help his production. It is not valid to compare a UFA contract with a contract this is primarily during RFA years.

        • HOCKEY83

          Also Tavares has never played with much talent and has always carried the team on his back. Can’t wait to see what he does playing along side some skilled players

      • btrain

        In context of when the contract was signed, Draisaitl had question marks around him as his only real sustained success driving his own line was a small sample size. In addition to this, the Oilers had just made it within a game of the Western final and it was probably the most exciting time to be an Oiler in over a decade.
        Therefore, you have a somewhat unproven yet promising player who no doubt wants to stay with the team and play with his buddy McDavid. Chiarelli was in a great negotiating position and still managed to land on a deal at the very upper limit of what could be considered reasonable. This is not to say that the contract is bad, or that he won’t live up to it. In fact, I believe in the next couple years this will become a value deal. However, in the context of the time it was signed, given what Drai had proven to that point in his career and the position of strength Chia was in, an opportunity was missed to maximize value while keeping one eye in the present and the other on the future. Unfortunately Chia loves to scratch things off his to do list even if it means skipping a few steps (i.e. actual negotiating).

  • ed from edmonton

    LD being more than a break even 2nd line center is important for the Oil to be a cup contender (I am not saying the Oil are on the verge of being a cup contender just that a 2nd line that I more than break even is needed to be a cup contender). Forwards best years are generally from 24 to 30, so expecting LD’s game to improve is not unreasonable but by no means a given. I recall many people expecting RNH to show major progress when he was about this age.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I swear to god, if you guys start in on Leon, I’m gonna corn on the cob you. How long have we waited for a skilled centre with size? Leon has sublime hands, great passing ability, a heavy release and he’s strong as an ox – remember that OT goal last year where he one-armed the defender to the ice without even missing a stride? An improved PP next season could put him in the 80 point range, so let’s see what happens.

    • CMG30

      Yes LD is a skilled center with size but the problem that has now been set up is that he’s being paid like an ELITE first line center. If he starts to produce prolifically then great but if he isn’t then… Right now I have faith that with better wingers (or if this Lucic debacle resolves itself) he can grow into his contract and become who we all want him to be.

      • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

        I think the numbers will even out a bit over the next couple seasons as the cap goes up. People said similar things about Nuge when he signed his $6 million deal IIRC. Plus, as others have said, Leon didn’t exactly have worldbeaters on his wings last year. I want to see what he can do with a bit more skill on his flank.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        leave the contract business to the professionals & the stakeholders.
        Just enjoy the team & the games… What they make is really non of our business…

    • ed from edmonton

      I believe that LD can become a “elite” center, whatever that means. But he hasn’t done that consistently yet in his career. In the Anaheim series he was the best player on the ice and we all hope he can approach this level again. But it is fair to say he didn’t get back to that level in the 17/18 season. I think it fair to say LD will be under greater scrutiny this year than in previous, it just come with the contract.

      It will be interesting to see how fans react if LD plateaus at a PPGish player with break even metrics as a 2nd line center. Would that be good enough? I hope LD can be more than this, but until he does it there will be questions and concerns.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        This situation sort of reminds me of:
        When Mactavish insisted on playing (Zach Stortini with Raffi Torres and Jared Stoll). Jared and Raffi told Mac-T, he takes away the flow of our line, slow, he’s difficult to play with.
        Mac-T played hardball and traded away both Jared and Raffi.
        The rest is history.

  • McNugent

    Drai will be fine. Hes worth every dollar.

    I live in Calgary and the year Johnny Mohnny signed their extensions they struggled. Media and fans were calling for their heads. The pressure of the contracts was difficult for the young players to handle.

    The following year they were great.

    I’m not even sure why an article like this is written. We have a bottom 6 winger who makes 6 million and a bottom pairing who makes 9.5 (Sekera and Russell).

    That is the teams issue not Drai. Please stop.

  • camdog

    Interesting Crosby/Malik’s comparison brought up here and stating LD didn’t live up to his contract. Last year in same games played Malkin had 1 more even strength point. The difference was powerplay points. Being a second line centre generally means you play with lesser skilled wingers, that point is especially true in Edmonton. At even strength Leon was good last season, struggled after the concussion a bit. I don’t think it’s fair to knock Leon based on the performance of his wingers, that’s like ripping on a good goalies because his save percentage is low playing in front of a garbage defence.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Leon has already shown to be able to drive offence when away from McDavid but the issue is he’s given up too much in that time and the goal share is negative. We need our 2nd line to run a positive goal share, in particular when it includes an $8.5M man.

    From a quick look, Leon’s most common line mates when not with McDavid (and Maroon) were Strome, Lucic, Caggulia, Cammy (and the Strome minutes were 1st half when he was struggling to find his way).

    Here is hoping he can get Puljijarvi and a combo of Reider and Khaira – I am confident that type of line can have a positive goal share.

  • oilerjed

    Im still not sold on Leon being a better 2C than Nuge. It will be interesting to see Leon’s even strength point totals after a full year of 2C and no McDavid effect. If Drai can score 80-90 pts on McDavids wing and Nuge can score 50 on the second line are the Oil not better off? Nuge is a better two center. period. Just because Drai has a bigger contract doesnt mean he has to be the 2C. The money is paid to both regardless of where they play. Points and wins is all that matters now.

    • crabman

      @oilerjed,

      I don’t agree that Nuge is a better defensive center than Draisaitl or that he makes a better 2C.
      Draisaitl was the Oilers best faceoff man last year and has been consistantly better than Nuge since entering the league. Draisaitl is bigger and more physical which helps him defend the bigger centers of the league, an issue Nuge has struggled with. And until we see the amount of points Nuge will put up on McDavid’s wing it’s hard to say it would be better off for the team to have gis 50+ points at 2C, that would be inline with his carrer, over Draisaitl’s potential 70+ as 2C. I think Nuge is a fine 2C but I think Draisaitl is the better option especially if you are trying to have a more balanced attack.

  • Gravis82

    every on Leon’s line should be able to handle themselves

    This carry his own line stuff is the wrong way to think about it

    Everyone on his line should be good enough to play there

  • Abagofpucks

    Anybody who speaks the word bust when talking about leon in anyway is truly off their rocker. Hes 22 and learning his last 2 seasons are 70 pts or better idk what you have to say your a fool.

  • OffTheNever

    This is why Oilersnation is garbage.
    WTF is Leon suppose to do with a pylon like Lucic, or a kid like JP that cant even speak english? Not to mention Mike Cammalarri.
    Cam Lewis Youre an Idoit. Stop getting your ideas from Spydyr.

  • OffTheNever

    Carry a line?
    I thought hockey was a team sport.
    Is leon Also responsible to carry the Defense as well? Since theyre also on the ice at the same time.

  • Gravis82

    The guy has arrived and potted 70 points. The articles should be on how Chiarelli has failed to put together a complete team not how our only good players need to be better to cover for managerial mistakes.

    Here are the centers scoring more than 70points last season: McDaivd, Giroux, Malkin, MacKinnon, Kopitar, Crosby, Stamkos, Barzal, Tavares, Kuznetsov, Barkov, Karlsson, Seguin, Staal, Couturier, Marchessault, Trochek, Backstrom.

    The only 2nd line centers on that list based on points are Marchessault, Trochek and Backstrom (!).

    Backstroms most common line mates? Probably someone good. I think you may have heard of him

    Trochek? 27 goal scorer Huberdeau

    Marchessault? Well his most common line-mate was actually Karlsson

      • Gravis82

        Ill ask you to provide a list of all the centers give me a percentage of time they played wing and who they played with. Then give me a list of all the wingers and the percentage of time they played center and who that was with. Then we can decide which ones are really center and which one are really wingers based on some arbitrary cutoff proportion and eventually come to the same conclusion: 70 points for someone who is a second line center is pretty darn good and the majority of those who scored more than Drai were playing more minutes with good players than Drai played with McDavid.

  • Just facts

    Leon’s point per game totals over the past two years are almost identical to both Matthews and Tavares. Tavares is already $2.5 million higher than Leon and I would expect Matthews to be at least as high as Tavares when he signs. I’m sure there are better value deals at top centre, but for a centre who is still young enough to improve, Leons deal is certainly nowhere near an overpay, and I expect it will be well into “value” territory for much of the term. I’d much rather pay a bit more in the early years to have someone throughout their prime, than pay at the top of the market in salary/term for someone who at best maintains in the early years and at worst almost immediately starts their decline.

  • Oiler Al

    Maybe, its just me, but often feel that despite his talent and size etc,Dria looks uninterested and playing a low energy game on many of his shifts!

    His GAS [ give a shcitz] pedal is down to the floor often enough, on both sides of the puck.

  • OilCan2

    McDavis will drive the first line with Nuge + someone. Lucic is due to bounce back and we have LP and Yammer and maybe Benson knocking on the top 6 winger door. With a bit of good health and chemistry Leon should be able to excel at 2C.

    • RJ

      bizarre.

      Drai’s two best seasons: 77 and 70; Nuge’s two best: 56 and 56.

      Drai’s cap hit %: 11.3% vs Nuge’s cap hit %: 9.33%.

      Drai has outscored Nuge’s career best by 21 points, and last year outscored him by 22.

      Let’s not forget the boat anchor named Lucic that Drai was stuck with.

      • RJ

        I may also have a faulty memory but McDavid did not go from start to finish as scoring leader, and he took off coincidentally around the same time as Lucic was removed from his line.

        Give Drai quality wingers and he will produce.

      • OriginalPouzar

        Nuge played more minutes with Lucic than Drai did (315 to 280) so your last point doesn’t really ring true. With that said, I believe your point is that Drai is the superior offensive player and, yes, that is without a doubt.

        Of course, Drai is making $2.5M more/season than Nuge so he’s getting paid as the more dynamic offensive player.

        I’m not really sure what my point is here as I have no issues with Drai’s contract. I wish it would have come in a little less when signed but he’s already providing value for it. Near a PPG with half his time away from McDavid, generally with middling/tweener wingers and huge struggles on the PP. Even mediocre PP production and he’s at 80 points.

        The issue with Drai right now is giving up too much when away from McDavid – this is largely tied to his linemates but he needs to start to win the goal share battle when playing center. He’s only 22 and I expect him to start that this coming year.

        Drai is an elite offensive player and is soon to be a top 10 center in the league.

        In a few years when cap hell alleviates and our prospects are move developed and he gets some talent to play with, he’s going to produce some massive numbers.

        • camdog

          How much time did they each play with Lucic after Christmas, when Lucic’s game caved? I know you are one of the better posters in Oiler land, but numbers often don’t reflect reality, such as those used in this blog.

  • camdog

    If bloggers want to use small data points in evaluating forwards, then best bet is to remove any time playing with Letestu/Cagguila and Lucic after Christmas, because these 3 were bad enough to skew the data. McDavid couldn’t even get these guys a significant boost in their analytics and he’s the best player in the world right now.

  • TKB2677

    Do people serious think Leon is overpaid STILL???
    – Tavares signs for 11 mill. I know he was a UFA but he’s a 70 pt player and makes 2.5 mill more than Leon. In a supposed “down year” Leon had 70 pts.
    – Eichel signs for 10 mill. Eichel’s career high to date s 64 pts and 25 goals and he is TERRIBLE defensively.
    – Kane is a winger but signs for 7 mill. He’s a 55 pt player.
    – Courture just signs for 8 mill extension that will kick in when he is 30. He’s a 65 pt player who’s prime is behind him. Again a UFA.

    When Matthews, Marner, Laine sign what will they get? Matthews and Laine probably push 11, Marner might be Leon money. So his contract is not an overpay what so ever.