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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Blackhawks at Oilers 02/11/20 – Odds and NHL Betting Trends

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.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


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.

Edmonton Oilers assign Tyler Benson to AHL

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:

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Hi Jason, any buzz on the Nurse signing?
    Is it a positive vibe, or do you think “offer-sheet”?
    I know a few teams that would love to have him. The Leafs come to mind?

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Billy Charlebois

    I agree that some of these descriptors are kind of silly. Can he drive his own line? What the hell does that mean? It seems like many are really slow to accept Draisaitl as a legit, top tier talent. I’m not sure why. Of course he has a few flaws and the odd time he seems to be inconsistent, but he is a legitimate #1 centerman.

    The one phrase that makes me laugh is “he is a good transporter of the puck”. I guess I’m old school, but is that the same thing a a good puck carrier? Some of these phrases seem a bit pretentious to me: “he activates” or “the half wall” or “good active stick”.

  • 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.

  • OilCan2

    Hey Jason it was real nice of you to let your English teacher ghost an article. Let’s face it those Hockey Cliches are CLICHE! That being said most writers (U 2 J G) have a very good grasp of the English language and can clearly explain the subtleties of hockey.

    • Leef O'Golin

      Oh man, Peter Loubardias and his “at the end of the day” spiels. Can’t stand that one. That, and “but he’s in the conversation” when trying to justify a writers insistence on his choice for some kind of recognition. I think “shown flashes” is used way too often. In many cases, a player has it or not….”showing flashes” of skill means they don’t have a lot to begin with.

  • Jaxon

    I despise the Leafs, but I think Matthews does deserve to be in the conversation for a top 5 C in the NHL. His 5v5 Primary Points / 60 are among the best of the past 2 years. 5v5 Primary Points are a decent barometer for driving the play as you aren’t depending on power play and secondary assists to possibly better linemates to get your points. He’s Top 3 in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

    5v5 P1/60 – Player – TOI
    2.31 – Evgeni Malkin – 1972.33
    2.30 – Connor Mcdavid – 2640.45
    2.22 – Auston Matthews – 2082.78
    2.07 – Steven Stamkos – 1303.9
    2.06 – Nico Hischier – 1048.27
    2.05 – Mathew Barzal – 1140.08
    1.97 – Nikita Kucherov – 2318.02
    1.87 – Nathan Mackinnon – 2249.35
    1.77 – Mark Scheifele – 2137.05
    1.76 – Evgeny Kuznetsov – 2278.12
    1.73 – Eric Staal – 2259.93
    1.72 – Sidney Crosby – 2378.23
    1.70 – Leon Draisaitl – 2292.03
    1.66 – Ryan Getzlaf – 2018.8
    1.66 – Logan Couture – 1915.1
    1.64 – Henrik Zetterberg – 2568.48
    1.63 – Aleksander Barkov – 2061.37
    1.62 – Jeff Carter – 1366.5
    1.59 – Sean Couturier – 2148.98
    1.58 – Bo Horvat – 1976.82

  • ThEdge

    Interviewees that get asked a question and begin their response with “I mean…”
    What do you mean “I mean”? Are you trying to clarify a statement that you haven’t even stated yet?

  • Redbird62

    Malkin is an awesome force and great to watch, but Crosby is still the better player. Malkin gets the luxury of playing a lot of his 5 on 5 time with Kessel and Hornqvist, while Crosby gets to play with Guentzel (who is up and coming but no Kessel) and Sheary and others. As well, Crosby generally faces the tougher opposition. Malkin also takes more than twice as many penalties, which leads to goals against that don’t get factored into stats. The gap may not be much between them and any team would love to have either one of them for next season, but I still believe for one season or one series, almost every general manager would take Crosby ahead of Malkin.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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

  • 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.