After dropping two straight to start the season, Oilersnation needed a winning streak to calm their nerves, and the team delivered exactly that. While the record looks a lot better, there are some concerns with this team.
The defense doesn’t look great, the offense is struggling when Connor McDavid isn’t on the ice, and Leon Draisaitl has looked… well, sluggish. That’s where I want to focus today.
From the second the Oilers announced Leon Draisaitl’s eight-year, $8.5 million extension a large portion of the fanbase has been upset with it. Most say that the deal is a $1-2 million overpayment, while others reserve judgment, saying that the value will come in the later years of the deal.
Regardless of how you feel, the deal is signed. Now, lot’s of the debate around Draisaitl is based on his play, what he needs to do to earn that big money contract and where he should be slotted in the lineup.
Given his price tag and the General Managers comments, most believe that he needs to be apart from Connor McDavid and driving his own line to be “worth it”. But take the contract out of this and take the question from “how can Leon Draisaitl be worth his contract?” to “how can Leon Draisaitl best help the Oilers win” and I think that changes things.
Would it be great if Draisaitl could drive the second line? It would be, but the way he’s playing right now simply isn’t cutting it. The Oilers have almost no source of secondary scoring and their second line with Leon can’t really be trusted defensively either.
There’s no denying that McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins are a very productive duo. Since the start of last season, they’ve spent 278 minutes together. In that time, they have a GF% of 73.53%, a ‘High Danger Corsi For/60’ of 14.03. It’s also worth noting that their on-ice shooting percentage is 17.12, which is very high.
It’s still a fairly small sample size and the numbers should regress a little bit, but there’s no denying that this has been a fantastic combo.
McDavid has been paired with Draisaitl for 556 even strength minutes since the start of 2017-18. They have a GF% of 53.25% and a HDCF/60 of 17.91% with an on-ice shooting % of 10.88. They have a larger sample size and appear to have more sustainable numbers (although any type of production seems sustainable with Connor McDavid).
While it isn’t quite on the level of McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, it’s still very good.
Regardless of who is on McDavid’s wing, he’s going to produce. But the problem has been Draisaitl’s play away from the Oilers Captain.
Leon has been away from McDavid for 630 even-strength minutes since the start of last season. His GF% is a measly 40.58% and his Corsi For % is just 48.73%. We don’t even need the numbers to know he doesn’t drive play on his own, but they do back up what we’ve all been seeing.
Nugent-Hopkins numbers as a centre have been much better. In 610 minutes, he has a GF% of 50.00% and a CF% of 49.79%. We haven’t seen Nuge on his own line in quite some time, but I always thought he was a solid, responsible, two-way centre who still had the ability to create offense.
I also look at Nugent-Hopkins as a player who can handle the oppositions best line, and he’s done that for almost his entire career. If he can soften the matchups for McDavid and Draisaitl at even strength, that would benefit the Oilers.
I know it’s frustrating to see the team pay a player $8.5 million to ride shotgun with Connor McDavid, but I also think there needs to come to a point where we forget about the cap-hits and just see what could help the team win more games.
It also doesn’t help that the Oilers don’t have very many high-quality wingers to go with their plethora of skilled centremen. I believe Draisaitl would look a lot better if he had better wingers, but I’m also not here to make excuses for him.
McDavid and Draisaitl are a lethal duo, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has proven to be a better second line centre than Leon Draisaitl. I think Todd McLellan should consider putting 97 and 29 back together.
It doesn’t need to stay like that forever, but as it sits right now, I believe that will help the team win more hockey games.
Eventually, you would like to see Draisaitl drive his own line and give the Oilers two elite scoring lines, but it’s clear right now he isn’t ready to do that. That doesn’t mean in March he won’t be able to do it, or that he won’t be able to do it in years four through eight of his massive contract. I personally think we will see a time when Draisaitl can be an elite second line centre, but right now, he isn’t helping the team win games on his own line and there’s no sense in continually trying to force it.