Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Where’s the best spot for Leon?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Quoteright

    I’ve said this before
    I believe Nuge and Leon could make for an amazing top line. 20+ minutes for both.
    Lucic would probably even work with them.
    It seems crazy to put McDavid on the second line unless you realize he’ll get open ice, not the cycle game which is where Nuge and Leon dominate. Conor could then also play 4th line as well.
    Strome is third.

    Nuge Leon Lucic
    McDavid Poolparty Reider
    Strome Kharia yamo
    McDavid kassian caggs

    • Big Nuggets

      You got a lot of trashes but I know what your saying. Any line that McDavid is on is obviously number 1, but with Nuge on Drai’s left wing and another winger for puck retrival plus board work it could be a successful line which might alleviate the pressure on McDavid’s line. It’s something to consider but I would stick with Nuge on McDavid’s line for now.

    • 18% body fat

      number 1 line is usually based on 3 things,

      1. who the best center is
      2. minutes played
      3. who the other teams best pair is playing against

      in all situations, regardless of who McDavids wingers are he will still and always be the oilers first line.

  • Oil9744

    “It’s clear right now he isn’t ready to do that” really?? Did you see Drai in the playoffs against the Ducks?? He still got 70 points last season away from Connor and not doing much at all on the power play, that’s really good for a 2nd line centre if you ask me, You think cause of 5 games in to this season he all of a sudden can’t carry a line?? I don’t buy it, If you wanna say you wanna see him play with Mcdavid that’s fine but to say he can’t drive a line is plain out wrong.

    • grumpyKoala

      Nothing wrong to admit the guy cannot carry his line by himself, he just can’t, he is tallented, not 8,5 tallented. He is a very good player that got the McD inflated paycheck and now we are mad he is not the superstar player we think he is. He is a star, just not a superstar

  • LaRock

    A thought occurred to me while reading this blog.

    McD is getting double shifted anyway.

    So send him out with Nuge, then have him shift with Drai.

    The Strome line has been playing well enough that they have not made people notice them in a bad way. So keep his line as the line to give McD a rest.

    Maybe Nuge and Drai can also gain some chemistry and also take a shift together, this also giving McD a rest. Then at times load up a line with all 3.

    I dunno…probably just NHL19 thoughts.

  • 18% body fat

    Woodguy posted numbers on twitter today. It is pretty straight forward and simple. Draisaitl it the number 2 center who can drive a line if Lucic or Caggulia are not on it.

    Seems like all centers suffer from having these two on their line,

    Solution, Lucic to the 4th and Caggulia to Witchita

  • rivid

    Wether you like the contract or not it’s not the issue. Leon is a good hockey player still figuring things out. Confidence is a huge thing and the last thing he needs is fans on his case. Give him time and let him continue to develop. There is a good hockey player here. Sidney Crosby still has not scored a goal and people in Pittsburgh are not freaking out. He is more than capable of leading his own line, he just can’t be saddled with some poor, slow wingers.

  • oilredemption

    Listen here Tyler buddy. There isn’t an issue where Drai is positioned. Let’s go over a couple key points:
    1) How did Leon earn his comtract: by driving his line in the playoffs against the ducks and a very good regular season play. So naturally his trajectory seemed up from there.
    2) is his contract an overpayment?
    today yes (by about 1.5mil) but sometimes you have to gamble on the future of a player.
    3) you get good players and keep good players. Whether you slightly over pay on that isn’t the problem.
    4) Would Drai be better suited without an anchor and a rookie on his wings? 100%. His play has improved imentlessly since yam and lucic moved away from him.
    5) Does Drai need a top6 veteran winger to help him drive his own line? I do think it could help buts that’s on Peter to do that for him. Not him.
    6) is his defensively defincies hurting him? Yes. This needs to improve but I know it will. He’s smart, strong and he’s good at deflecting pucks. It’s a matter of positioning and adapting. Very teachable things for a young center.
    7) can he make players around him better? he’s talented enough to do so and he will.
    8) is Drai a better player than most 2nd line centers and/or 2nd pair dman? Yes he is.
    9) can Drai help with oiler possession when he’s on the ice? Yes he’s an extremely good passer, can shield players away from the puck, can strip the puck from opposing players and he’s very good in the face off dot.
    10) Can Drai drive the offensive? Yes. We have seen it. Even without Mcdavid. He’s a natural slow starter but he will get there.
    So I guess my point is. Leon will be fine and no one should be concerned yet. So quit writing such stupid articles and can we all please not pick a random player and make him our whipping boy. Good Lord.

    • MrBung

      This is less of an issue if the rest of the team had so many gaps. That is the thing people are missing. Too many overlays. This team has one of the worst D’s in league and lacks for productive wingers.

    • fasteddy

      There’s no question Leon’s numbers are good and have been good….to the eye though it sure doesn’t seem like he’s controlling shifts like he could. I think he needs some talented wingers to play for extended time. Regardless of how badly I’d love him to form a dominant line with Luc it Puljujarvi, it just doesn’t seem to be happening. Jesse looks like a 15 year old playing men’s league right now; completely irrelevant to the play.

  • daryl

    Just an aside see where Brossoit had another win and good outing Todd is responsible for that one as he refused to play him and the Jets got him for nothing and we paid $2.5 mil for someone who may not be as good way to go Todd.

  • Dan 1919

    I agree with stacking the 2nd line to effectively make two 1st lines when you have the best player in the world on the first line, AND you have good enough wingers who can still contribute on the first line. Puljujarvi and Yamo still look too early in their careers to give them first line matchups for 82games, regardless of their center. So until they prove me wrong, I still wouldn’t want to casually juggle one of the few bullet proof lines the Oilers have(McDavid and Nuge). McDavid has already expressed frustration with all of Todd’s line juggling last year. And the fact is, it didn’t work. This team is still developing, could still make playoffs but still developing.

  • Serious Gord

    Kind of surprised this is still debatable.

    Mcd is first line centre.

    Drai at 8.5 mill HAS to be the second line centre.

    Rnh is too talented and Illfitted for 3rd line duties so he plays wing either with Draisaitl or mcd. As there is no better winger option he slots into the mcd line.

    Strome centres the third line – paired perhaps with lucic.

    • PerryK

      Gord, I actually think that RNH at C with Drai on the wing may work well. But then, the issue is who do you put with McD? I know a mannequin would score with McD but seriously. He has Rattie, (I hope). But we need a competent LW with defensive conscience.

  • Kepler62c

    Nothing wrong with trying Nuge and Leon together, but while the team is winning I wouldn’t shake things up too much. If they get in a bit of a rut where it’s clear the secondary scoring just isn’t coming then I’d give that a go. But it’s still early and the 2nd-4th will start cashing a bit.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Once Leon stops cheating for offence and flying the zone, his defensive positioning, awareness and battle will get better and the offence will come.

    He knows he’s struggling and is pressing for offence and its creating issues in the defensive zone which vastly reduces the lines offence (as they are chasing the puck for 80% of the time).

  • Battman

    I actually liked the Draisaitl Lucic and Puljujärvi line tonight. By my eyes, the issue on the line was mostly
    Lucic’s decision making with the puck, and some I’ll advised/bad passes. Pair that with Nashville’s team defense and that’s a recipe for disaster. I wasnt disappointed with the loss. I felt good with the effort put forward by the team. I thought they held their own for the most part against a superior team.

  • OilerFaithful.Always

    Are we seriously having this conversation again? Last year when we were losing with draisaitl was on Mcdavid’s wing it was move drai to second line centre and move RNH to McD’s wing and we will get two productive lines. Now your saying we need too revert back to our old plans saying that is going to fix things! The problem is we have no skilled wingers to play up to par with our talent in the middle so its holding them back. Get draisaitl a skilled winger that can play and think the game at his level and problem solved! Doing what we did last year didn’t get us more wins. We are only 6 games in and 3-3 we aren’t doing all that bad we have played tough teams and had a tough schedule. I believe we need to find drai a winger but that’s it.

  • Gravis82

    You believe he would look better with better wingers? Lol

    Um, yes. Unless you name is McDavid offensive players need someone to pass to and to receive a pass from

  • OilerFaithful.Always

    How the hell would he not? He has proven he can play. Not just with Mcdavid but on his own as well. Not everyone is named Mcdavid who can carry an entire team let alone a line no matter who you play him with. Draisaitl is a top end player, he finished just about a point a game last year and we called it a down year. Get him a skilled winger and you’ll see just how quick every one changes their tune on where we need to play him.