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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:



  • ubermiguel

    Gee, I wonder why people consistently over-rate Matthews? Hint: it rhymes with “blays in Boronto”.

    Leon’s a #1 centre, but he happens to be on the same team as the best player in the world who is also a centre. As a result all the critics act like they forgot about Drai.

  • Ron Burgundyz

    “Saucer pass” and “D-to-D” are a couple that grind my gears during games.

    “Calgary Flames” is also a phrase that should never be used in polite company.

      • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

        Same with D-to-D for that matter.

        The one thing that really ticks me off is the commentary in the NHL series, just because of how fake it is or how someone says something. Like Doc Emerick’s pronunciation of Kucherov in NHL18 sounds weird.

  • The Future Never Comes

    “Cup of coffee” most annoying saying destroyed by the newby writers on here and then parroted 19 times in that same articles comment section.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    The only reason Matthews is #4 both years is because he is overrated. While most people agree that McDavid is better, some Leafs fans (and I’ve met them) have actually tried to argue that Matthews is better simply because he has made the playoffs twice in two years while McDavid has only made the playoffs once in three years. As you stated, Matthews hasn’t even cracked 70 points and McDavid has already had back2back 100 point seasons.

  • Raffydog

    Not an Oilers fan, but that article was 100x more interesting than the drivel they are posting on flamesnation lately. I think we’re on #20 of the top 50 prospects you’ve never heard of. Thanks for the great read.

  • TKB2677

    I think the NHL list of the top 20 is a bit of a joke. Matthews staying at #4 is laughable. Eichel is better than Leon? Based on what? Karlsson had an amazing year this past season. He’s 1 yr removed from scoring 6 goals. Don’t you need more of a resume of good play than 1 season? He had a shooting percentage of 23.4%. Ovie one of the best goal scores of all time was at 13.8%. When Karlsson doesn’t shoot 10% higher than on of the all time great goal scores and goes to a normal 11-12 %, guess what he scores? Just over 20 goals. Barzal had an amazing rookie season. Again it’s 1 season, don’t you need more than 1 season on your resume. AND he had Tavares playing in front of him and taking all the tough match ups. With Tavares gone, all the attention will be on Barzal. What do people think will happen when Barzal is facing all the teams best dmen and going up against other teams best line? I could see Barzal

  • camdog

    Leon was best Oiler during playoff run. He needs consistent wingers that are able to play on the top 3 lines, before we can truly understand how good he is. Playing with wingers that are 4th line at best, will not provide good results for anybody Leon is compared too.

    As to Mathews he is rated high because he scores goals. He still needs to work on other aspects of his game, but he will get better with expierence.

    • TruthHurts98

      If Leon can finally get some decent wingers he’ll score 80 points or more. I hope Yamamoto and JP can have big seasons otherwise this debate will continue. Caggulia and Aberg wouldn’t even make half the teams in the league but Leon gets stuck playing with them and Lucic who is a bottom 6 forward at this stage in his career. Maybe Reider and Puljujarvi play with him this year and I’ll bet his point totals will be better. Just imagine how much offense this team would have if we had some scoring wingers!

  • wiseguy

    The problem with using the points of the last 2 seasons for Draisaitl to prove his “eliteness” as a top 20 center is that most of his points were accumulated as a winger (mostly for McDavid). That is primarily the reason some still question his ability to be the top player when he is the center and best player on his own line. I don’t think there’s sufficient data of his play as a center to rank him. There is some concern about his drop in productivity in the past 2 years when he has played away from McDavid although those sample sizes are small. The use of “driving a line” can be interpreted as how productive a player can be when he is the best player on that line without much support. McDavid showed that he can be productive whether it is Leon on his RW or Rattie, Nuge or Maroon on his LW. He is the ultimate “line driver”. Crosby and Malkin have both had great to mediocre wingers and been productive over many years regardless. If all goes well, this should be the year that Leon shows whether he can be productive when away from McD. In theory, he has poorer wingers then when on the 1st line, but he plays against the opposition 2nd pairing dmen (so no Chara, Doughty, Hedman, etc.) and not against the top checking lines.

    • camdog

      Leon, RnH and Maroon were the best wingers on the team. Last year even McDavid would not have been carried a line with Lucic and Caggiula on his wings. If McDavid could drive offence on his own, then RnH should be playing on Leon’s wing. That won’t happen because even McDavid needs at least one skilled forward to work the wings.

      • Redbird62

        Actually based on Corsica.hockey line combinations, Lucic with McDavid played pretty well together, except when either Caggiula or Slepyshev were on the other side. People might be surprised to know that a line of McDavid, Lucic and Puljujarvi played 180 minutes together 5 on 5 and outshot the opponents and outscored them as well 8-4. It would have been even more effective if the wingers didn’t have such low shooting percentages. Lucic was at 50% of his career average last year, and Jesse just needs some more experience. Caggiulla seems to be the one winger that at least last season dragged McDavid down. And that was not the case in 2016-17 when they actually out shot, out chanced and outscored the opponent when on the ice together.

  • hankthegreat

    I hate when people overuse the word, “right” at the end of a sentence. Especially when they use it as a rhetorical question to try and validate an argument or opinion as fact. Its lazy.

  • Kinda similar to the “drive a line” expression, what irks me is when people say things like “he hasn’t won anything” or “is not a playoff performer” about players or even coaches. The fact is, this is a team game. While one guy can make a huge difference, they can’t win games all on their own. McDavid “hasn’t won anything” , but he’s still the best player in hockey per most people, plus the NHLPA. One day we expect he will win a cup or two. It seems like an useless phrase to me, as it ignores that hockey is a team game and that can hold someone back from winning the ultimate prize. At the same time, a cup win doesn’t prove a player is great either, Colin Fraser. I would love it if people stopped using this to measure value of a player.

  • 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.

  • Big Nuggets

    Its not good on them for creating conversation. That irks me. Creating needless arguements and prattle is just annoying.

    Draisaitl is a stud, and I don’t worry that he can drive a line, but I am curious as to how he can handle defending and tough match ups. I like to envision him getting to Kopitar levels of 2-way hockey, but right now he is a good offensive player who is still quite raw as a centerman. I want to see if McLellan uses the Draisaitl line this year.

  • hummanahummana

    Drai is very underrated in my opinion. The guy is very Anze Kopitar like when you watch him every night. All the little things he does on the defensive side of the ice is what makes him higher then 20. To put 70 points up last season after suffering a concussion is no small feat either, ppl forget how sluggish you feel even after a concussion has healed.

  • Big Boss

    Jason, in what ways is Alex Jones a “deplorable human being” and what does mentioning him have anything to do with hockey? I’m not saying I’m standing up for Alex Jones, but when I think of a deplorable human being, I think of someone who has committed GREAT atrocities against others. I don’t think someone who questions information reported by news outlets or offers different opinions contrary to mainstream narrative as a deplorable person. I think of someone like Harvey Weinstein who has actually been charged for rape as a deplorable person. If you consider Alex Jones deplorable because he holds a different opinion than you, I would consider that more of a poor reflection on yourself as this is more of your subjective opinion rather than objective fact. Like I said, I’m not an Alex Jones supporter and in fact, I tune into your radio show daily, however, I’ll state my original question once more: In what ways is Alex Jones a “deplorable human being” and what does mentioning him have anything to do with hockey?

    • ScottyPrime

      I’m just gonna go out on a limb, but I’m gonna suggest that conducting a targeted campaign of harassment at the grieving Sandy Hook parents, as well as repeatedly perpetuating a false narrative of the Sandy Hook shooting having been staged, against all evidence, makes you a pretty deplorable person. Jones ongoing legal troubles show a variety of situations in which he’s used his platform to baselessly attack individuals and groups who do not have similar platforms to fight back, purely for his monetary gain, and frankly that also makes him a pretty deplorable person, and a bully.

      If you had read Gregors article more clearly, you may have noted that the reason he brought up Jones is quite clearly stated, namely, that his name incites rage in a lot of reasonable people, (like the word “grit”, a hockey term he was referencing at the time).

        • chickenStew

          Do some research on what he has put the parents of those kids through, and tell me it’s just voicing an opinion.
          Here’s my opinion: Him and the people who think he is harmless, are the lowest form of scum on the planet.

        • Big Boss, this really shows a lack of maturity that you don’t understand how devastating it was for these people to lose their family members in Sandy Hook, alone, then have that low life Jones imply that it was all fake. I’d never wish that on anyone. Grieving a loved one is tough, never mind someone who died at a young age, and never mind again someone who was stolen from you wrongly by someone’s wrong doing (I’ve been there and it really compounds the pain). The guy is a complete dirt bag and obviously doesn’t care about the fact he incited harm on people who had already suffered a rather monumental loss. There are more deplorable beings out there for sure, but this guy definitely fits the description and perhaps you’re playing Devil’s advocate because you don’t fully understand how he’s used his platform to seriously and negatively impact some people.

    • chezzychez

      There are many reasons to think Alex Jones is deplorable. He promotes hate and has rallied people to commit murder, hate crimes, harassment… etc. My main issue is that he had his campaign (as already mentioned by ScottyPrime) to convince people that Sandy Hook was fake and that the American Gov’t hired child actors to portray dead children. This lead to people actually stalking and criminally threatening parents of murdered 6 yr olds… Politics aside, this is enough for a decent human to call this guy deplorable.

    • Jason Gregor

      You might want to research what he does. The fact you asked the question suggests you don’t know. Harassing parents who lost their kids in Sandy Hook shooting. You think that isn’t deplorable. If all he did was say he didn’t believe it, fine. He is entitled to look like an idiot, but when he starts harassing the parents it is different. If you lose a child and someone tells you your child never existed and gets others to harass you about, please let me know how that feels. I suspect at that moment you might think it is deplorable. Have a great day.

      • Big Boss

        Thanks Jason, I agree with you in the sense that he has ACTED in a deplorable way. That being said, I dug a little deeper and found out that he has an alcohol and potentially drug problems. Combined with paranoia, money and a huge cult following, it’s easy for one’s life to spin wildly out of control. For everyone who is on the outside looking in, it’s easy to forget that he is still a human being and for us to disassociate him from the human race by labeling him deplorable and pushing him underground when it’s very clear to me that this is a man in serious need of help.