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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Leon Draisaitl is playing at a level we haven’t seen from him before

When news came out that Connor McDavid would miss up to two or three weeks with a sore knee, many thought McDavid’s absence would be the end of the Edmonton Oilers’ season. The Oilers haven’t fared well with their generational centre on the bench, it would make sense they’d do even worse without him dressing period.

But the Oilers went a respectable 3-2-1 without McDavid on the backs of the Ryan Nugent-HopkinsLeon DraisaitlKailer Yamamoto line.

We knew Draisaitl was a phenomenal scorer beside McDavid and he was still going to score without McDavid, maybe not as much but still a good-to-great amount. McDavid and Draisaitl are a wonderful duo, but as much as they create the rest of the Oilers forwards kept giving it back.

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Historically, the Oilers with Draisaitl on the ice and McDavid on the bench haven’t had success outside of some solid individual stats for Draisaitl. Draisaitl’s played a ton with McDavid. Since 2016-19, he’s spent at least 44-percent of his five-on-five time with McDavid, and over 57 in each other season. Draisaitl’s down to just 51-percent of his five-on-five time with McDavid, the lowest since 2017-18.

McDavid’s always been fine without either Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins on his line, save for 2018-19 where the Oilers only scored 31-percent of the goals with McDavid on the ice without Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins. McDavid is a generational talent and we could reasonably expect him to perform better without another top-line player on his wings. That’s been true for 2019-20. McDavid and Draisaitl started off playing a bunch together, but the recent success of the Nugent-Hopkins-Draisaitl-Yamamoto has the Oilers’ two superstars on different lines. McDavid’s line won’t score as much as when Draisaitl’s beside him, but Draisaitl on the second line creates forward depth the Oilers badly need.

Draisaitl without McDavid

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Draisaitl is performing better without McDavid than any season prior. The only season that comes close is 2015-16, where Draisaitl spent nearly 900 minutes with Taylor Hall on his wing. Before McDavid-Draisaitl was a thing, Draisaitl-Hall a dynamic duo. In 2015-16, the Oilers had a 51.95-percent Corsi with Draisaitl and Hall on the ice and outscored teams 42-39 on a bad Oilers team. Well, Peter Chiarelli happened and the Draisaitl-Hall duo was no longer an option. Coaches kept going back to McDavid and Draisaitl playing together and that usually left Nugent-Hopkins with some combination of Milan Lucic, Alex Chiasson, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Jujhar Khaira on the second line. Those second lines were never good enough, but the Nugent-Hopkins-Draisaitl-Yamamoto line might finally be the second line the Oilers need.

I’ve always been curious what an Oilers second line with Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins would look like. In the past, they had decent numbers in limited minutes. 2018-19 is again the outlier but otherwise, there’s been promise in a second line led by Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. 2019-20 is, incredibly, the first year where Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins have played 100 five-on-five minutes together without McDavid. They’ve been great, especially with Yamamoto on right wing. Nugent-Hopkins-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have 53.33-percent corsi and have outscored teams 22-8 five-on-five.

Driving his own line. Pushing the river. Succeeding away from McDavid. Call it whatever you want, Draisaitl’s doing it. His 2.67 points-per-60 away from McDavid is elite and his 102 points total leads the league. At this point, it’s fairly likely Draisaitl claims the Art Ross Trophy, and the Hart Trophy isn’t out of the question either.

The Nugent-Hopkins-Draisaitl-Yamamoto creates matchup challenges the Oilers haven’t had in McDavid’s career. Coaches don’t have to only worry about sending their best players at the Oilers top line and ignoring the rest of the roster. The Oilers success was always going to come with McDavid and Draisaitl on their own lines. Now can Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis can click beside McDavid? Look out.