82
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What are we driving at with Draisaitl?

Is there a hockey saying that irks you?

I guarantee there is at least one and probably more. I find new phrases are always popping up to describe players. Some are positive, sadly many carry a negative connotation, and some are just, well, nothing. I chuckle when people say, “He is good, BUT…” and then use the meaningless word, phrase or moniker.

Some terms over the years have gained notoriety both positively and negatively.

Grit. It can send some into a rage, especially those who like analytics. It seems for some the word is worse than Alex Jones, which is saying a lot, because I’m not sure I’ve seen a more deplorable human being.

Compete. Most often when spoken it is grammatically incorrect, which annoys me the most. I understand what it means, but please, use it properly.

Puck Mover. Isn’t every player who passes the puck a puck mover?

There are many others. Feel free to share the ones which irk you the most.

As we compile more statistics we are seeing an increase in more accurately calculating what some players do better. It still isn’t perfect, but we have seen big improvements.

There is one term lately that fires me up. “He can’t drive a line.”

Well, let’s start with the obvious.

There are very few players who can actually do this consistently. Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and a few others are on the very short list of active players who can do this. Depending on who you talk to, that list might grow to 15 forwards.

However, when you look at other highly productive players, how many of them are regularly driving the line by themselves?

The challenge when someone tosses out that line, often to denounce the skills of a player, is to realize the list of players who can do that is so rare, it probably shouldn’t be used when describing 99% of the players in the league.

Does Steven Stamkos drive a line? When he was scoring 51 and 60 goals he played with Martin St.Louis. One year Stamkos had 95 points and St.Louis had 94. They were an incredible duo. Did one drive the line, or did they play off one other exceptionally well? I assume he can, and has been an excellent scorer for many years, but have we seen him have to “drive a line”?

If we look at most of the NHL’s top scorers, often we see multiple linemates in the top-15 or top-20 scorers. As mentioned, McDavid and some other elite guys will produce regardless of who they play with, but that list is very small, and if they are on a team with a great linemate does that mean they can’t drive a line?

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been teammates for the past five seasons and Seguin has 384 points in 387 games while Benn has 373 points in 404 games. Both are excellent players and over the past five seasons, they have played 73% of Benn’s 5×5 time together. Does that mean neither can drive a line, because prior to playing together they never put up big numbers?

We can look at the other 27% of their ice time apart to see how they do, but is that a large enough sample size? Is 1,400 minutes spread out over five seasons, with multiple different linemates, a strong enough based to make an accurate assessment?

I find it interesting how recently when Leon Draisaitl’s name is mentioned the fallback criticism is, “But, he can’t drive a line.”

Even though Draisaitl isn’t McDavid, many believe he is still one of the best 20 centres in the NHL. And if he is one of the 20 best centres and he “can’t drive a line”, is that phrase overused or possibly inaccurate?

Recently NHL.com had a list of their top-20 centres.

1. Connor McDavid
2. Sidney Crosby
3. Evgeni Malkin
4. Auston Matthews
5. Nathan MacKinnon
6. Anze Kopitar
7. Mark Schiefele
8. Patrick Bergeron
9. Tyler Seguin
10. John Tavares
11. Steven Stamkos
12. Evgeny Kuznetsov
13. Aleksander Barkov
14. Nicklas Backstrom
15. Jack Eichel
16. Mathew Barzal
17. William Karlsson
18. Sean Couturier
19. Ryan Getzlaf
20. Leon Draisaitl

Here was their list in August of 2017.

1. Connor McDavid
2. Sidney Crosby
3. Evgeni Malkin
4. Auston Matthews
5. Nicklas Backstrom
6. John Tavares
7. Steven Stamkos
8. Tyler Seguin
9. Ryan Getzlaf
10. Mark Schiefele
11. Patrick Bergeron
12. Jonathon Toews
13. Anze Kopitar
14. Jack Eichel
15. Leon Draisaitl
16. Ryan Johansen
17. Aleksander Barkov
18. Jeff Carter
19. Evgeny Kuznetsov
20. Sean Monahan

So 16 players were on the list both years. Toews, Johansen, Carter and Monahan were replaced with MacKinnon, Barzal, Karlsson and Couturier last season.

We can debate who should be ranked where, but if a player is in the top-20 two years in a row, I think most will concede he deserves to be on the list.

Sports lists are great because they create a lot of discussion and debate. It is interesting to note MacKinnon wasn’t on the list after scoring 63, 38, 52 and 53 points in his first four seasons. Last year he exploded for 97 points, beating his previous career high by 34 points. He had an incredible season, but can he come close to repeating it? Scoring 97 points again will be extremely difficult.

Since 2005, the only players with consecutive 97-point seasons is short.

Joe Thornton (125, 114) and Dany Heatley (103, 105) in 2006-2007.
Pavel Datsyuk (97, 97) and Evgeni Malkin (106, 113) in 2008-2009.
Sidney Crosby (103, 109) in 2009-2010.
McDavid (100, 108) in 2017-2018.

Alex Ovechkin (112, 110, 109) did it three years in a row from 2008-2010.

If we expand it to consecutive 90+ point seasons, we add a few more players.

Marian Hossa 2006-2007 (92, 100)
Jarome Iginla 2007-2008 (94, 98)
Henrik Sedin 2010-2011 (112, 94)
Marty St.Louis 2010-2011 (94, 99)
Steven Stamkos 2010-2012 (95, 91, 97)

Thornton had 96 points in 2008 and was one point shy of three consecutive 97-point campaigns.

So a grand total of 12 players were able to score 90+ points in consecutive seasons over the past 13 years. I love offence, so I hope MacKinnon does it, but it is extremely difficult. Even scoring 70 points in consecutive seasons is tough.

Over the past two years, only six centers had 70 points in both seasons.

McDavid: 208 points (100, 108)
Crosby: 178 points (89, 89)
Malkin: 170 points  (98, 72 missed 20 games)
Backstrom: 157 points (86, 71)
Seguin: 150 points (72, 78)
Draisaitl: 147 points (77 and 70)

Also, Tavares (66, 84), MacKinnon (53, 97), Kopitar (52, 92), Kuznetsov (59, 83) and Schiefele (82, 60 missed 20 games) averaged 70+ points over the past two seasons. So a total of eleven centres averaged 70 points/year.

Producing points regularly in the NHL is difficult. Injuries, slumps, unlucky bounces all play a factor, not to mention many coaches are still preaching sound, tight defence over creative, sound offence.

Maybe Draisaitl hasn’t shown “he can drive a line” consistently, but does he have to in order to be a successful NHL player? I don’t believe he does, but I also think “Drive a line” is limited to such a small, elite group of players, that what Draisaitl does do well vastly overshadows the fact, in his first three seasons he has yet to show he “can drive a line.”

TOP 20 DEBATE…

Oct 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) skates with the puck as Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) chases in overtime at PPG PAINTS Arena. The Penguins won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I’m perplexed how Auston Matthews remained #4 this year. Matthews had 63 points in 62 games. Jack Eichel produced 64 points in 67. Eichel dropped from 14th to 15th, but Matthews stayed at #4. I like Matthews, and expect he will be an excellent player, but production matters and he has yet to score 70 points.

Many players below him have averaged over a point-per-game in a full NHL season, but he is still above them. I do wonder if he was placed there simply to create debate. If so, good on them for creating conversation, but a big part of me thinks it is simply due to where he plays.

Matthews has not had a season thus far better than what MacKinnon, Kopitar, Tavares or others right below him have. I do expect better production from him in the future, but today he is not the 4th best centre in the NHL.

My top-ten, and I am not basing it on potential, nor what a player did five plus years ago, is as follows. I’m basing mine on the recent play.

1. Connor McDavid. He scored 84 5×5 points last year. He had 155 the past two seasons, which is 40 more than the next closest centre. I won’t be surprised if he scores 120 points this year.

2. Evgeni Malkin. Yes, I have him ahead of Crosby. His 1.21 Points-per-game is second behind McDavid’s 1.27. Malkin also has had a better GF/GA ratio than Crosby the past two seasons.

3. Sidney Crosby. Still elite. The most shocking stat about Crosby for me is over the past two years he has only drawn 36 penalties. McDavid has drawn 86. Oilers fans get frustrated, and often rightfully so, about many non-calls on McDavid, but Crosby having the 124th highest penalties drawn/60 is mindblowing to me. I suspect Penguins fans have a legit reason to be frustrated.

4. Anze Kopitar. The full package. Big, strong, skilled and excellent in both ends of the ice. He helped 33-year-old Dustin Brown score a career-high 61 points last season.

5. Nathan MacKinnon. Incredible speed. He flourished when given more responsibility last season.

6. Mark Scheifele. His injury cost him consecutive 80-point seasons. I love how he sees the ice and distributes the puck. Also deceptively aggressive.

7. Evgeny Kuznetsov. I love his goal celebration, which means little, but I’m mentioning it. Incredibly skilled. I’d like to see him shoot more, but when you have Ovechkin on your wing I understand the instinct to pass. I think he is top-five pure skilled players in the league.

8. Aleksander Barkov. Last year was just a glimpse of his coming out party. He is finally growing into his massive frame, and his smooth stride, combined with his passing he is a treat to watch. A very smart player, who excels in all three zones.

9. Steven Stamkos: He has evolved from a pure shooter to more of a passer. He has altered his game playing with Kucherov. Those two on opposite sides of the PP are scary. Injuries slowed him down for a few years, but he looks like he is getting closer to the player we saw in his second- fourth seasons.

10. Auston Matthews: His release is incredible. Big, strong and smart. I think he will benefit with some more icetime. He should be playing more than 17:51/game like he did last year. He is strong enough to handle more minutes and Mike Babcock would be wise to play him more.

Feel free to debate my list, and share the hockey term that irritates you.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • jesse says yep

    Pedigree. Every draft year we have to listen to talking heads drone on and on about a players “Pedigree”, like they are show poodles or something. enough already.

  • VK63

    He is strong enough to handle more minutes and Mike Babcock would be wise to play him more.

    Mike Babcock listens to the man in his mirror and his wife. (full stop)

  • Arfguy

    I think the Oilers are lucky to have Draisaitl. I think he will have a great season, provided he does not have anchors on his line. I’d recommend trying him with Rieder first, since Rieder seems to have some wheels. I would also prefer Puljujarvi to play on Draisaitl’s right wing.

  • Gravis82

    All it means is that he is good enough to make a line break even or only lose slightly when saddled with supremely inferior players who should be playing in Europe. When the oilers find a good player, they make sure to attenuate his impact by seeing this as an excuse to get away with putting inferior cheap players with him so they can overspend on old overrated free agents

  • ROILYDoGG$

    Leon is in the same class as Taveras, Mathews, Eichel, Monahan etc(3rd Frimge Elite). Mcd is another level (1 Generational )above the Crosby Malkin and Kopitar level(2 Elite).

  • Lurch_tm

    Thanks for asking this question. I’ve been very annoyed with play- by- play and color guys who refer to players on a first name only basis. Like we’re all best buddies…

    And your English teacher will probably share my frustration with the trend of stupid tense shifts, like “if he doesn’t make that play, the team wouldn’t have won the game”… did somebody decide this would sound more action-y on TV?

    And why do sports guys (mostly guys) on TV always raise their voices when talking about last night’s game, like it’s more fun to yell about sports than to just talk about sports?

    Thanks Gregor. You’re one of the good ones.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    “Locker room.”

    There are no lockers in NHL dressing rooms … or any other hockey dressing room, for that matter.

    It’s long been my contention that “locker room” moved into the NHL lexicon when it expanded into the southern markets in the U.S. in the 1990s. I have no memory of that phrase being used prior to, say, 1990 or 1991 and it certainly wasn’t used in the 1980s, which is how far back my memory goes.

    My theory is that the media in those southern markets were so accustomed to covering the other big sports down there (basketball, football), that their reporters/play-by-play people/colour people incorporated some of their language of their sports into hockey (that said, I have no idea if NBA or NFL rooms have lockers in them) because they had little or no idea of “hockey-language” or its nuances.

  • “does he have to in order to be a successful NHL player?”

    Not a single person has ever claimed this to be the case. The argument has always been that if he is going to inhabit the cap space of a line driver then he should be a line driver.

  • dsanchez1973

    Sorry. If you want to demand a long term contract that makes you one of the 15 highest paid players in the league, you accept the expectation that you can and will be one of those elite players who can produce with any type of linemate. If he had signed for 6.5 or 7 last summer, you would never hear these kind of comments.

  • cherry picker

    “Wall”. He shoots the puck hi off the WALL!
    Isn’t it boards or glass? Annoys me but it’s probably going to hang around because it’s been years of this term.