MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP!
That’s the calibre of season we’ve seen from Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl this year. He’s scored 110 points in 71 games. 13 more than his next closest competitor Connor McDavid, who was two up on Artemi Panarin and David Pastrnak.
But it’s been a long road for Neon Leon to get this far. Drafted third overall in the 2014 entry draft, everyone following the team knew the raw talent he possessed.
In his draft year he put up 38 goals and 105 points in 64 games with the Prince Albert Raiders. He joined the Edmonton Oilers in his rookie season putting up a very pedestrian nine points in 37 games. There were big questions about his game and it largely surrounded his apparent lack of foot speed.
Edmonton opted to return him to the WHL with his last game being a two-assist performance against the Calgary Flames on New Years Eve 2014.
A subsequent WHL trade saw him land with the Kelowna Rockets as they made a push for the Memorial Cup. 53 points in 32 games was followed by a Memorial Cup MVP performance. He turned pro with the Oilers and over the next two seasons, he put up a very solid 128 points in 154 games.
Edmonton locked him up to a then-controversial eight-year, $8.5-million deal and in return, he put up 25 goals and 70 points in 78 games. People weren’t happy, for some reason, and there was concern about one of Peter Chiarelli’s biggest moves as Oilers GM.
But patience wore off and in 2018-19, he lit up the NHL scoring 50 goals and 105 points in a full 82 games. He clearly hit the next level as an NHL’er and those concerns about his contract and his footspeed, went to the wayside.
And this year was no different and he even hit another level this year. In 71 pre-pause games, he’s scored 43 goals and 110 points building an impressive resume. Making this even more impressive is that he actually has had 15 (!) games this year where he didn’t even register a point.
This year 33 of his games have seen him score more than one point, 14 of which have seen him have three-point nights. You can add three four-point games, and two five-point games, too.
His raw numbers have been just incredible this year as he was on pace for another 50 goal season that paced him to score 127 points, the most since Nikita Kucherov put up 128 in 2018-19.
When Connor McDavid went down with a quad injury in February that kept him out for six games, Draisaitl went on a tear scoring four goals and 12 points. He showed he was able to drive his own line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto as they developed a wild second line to play behind McDavid.
His underlying numbers have been average at 5v5 this year posting a 48.18 CF%, a 52.67 GF% and an xGF% of 49.17. According to hockeyviz.com, Draisaitl provided 5v5 offence at an 11 per cent higher rate than league average while giving 17 per cent worse defence. On top of that, he’s an incredible weapon on the powerplay bringing a 41 per cent boost to the unit.
It all goes without saying, however, that Draisaitl had a horrendous stretch of hockey in December when he himself admitted he had “been pretty shit lately.” His raw numbers and underlying numbers all took a deep dive that have skewed his numbers this year.
All in all, he bounced back in a big way alongside his line with Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto. In early April, Baggedmilk, Cam Lewis and I did an article filing out our tentative awards ballots and here’s why each of us chose Draisaitl as the Hart Trophy winner.
Let’s be honest here for a second. Leon Draisaitl was the best player in the NHL this season, hands down. And don’t give me any of this crap about his +/- either because that stat is about as worthless as Denis Grebeshkov was on the Oilers blue line. Had it not been for a horrible month of December, nobody would even be talking about this but since it’s Leon Draisaitl and not someone from the Eastern Conference, the media feels the need to move the goalposts so that their guy can win it.
Leon Draisaitl silenced all of his critics this season. He had 110 points at the point of the season’s pause, 13 more than anybody else in the league. But what really cemented Draisaitl this year was his play in leading the Oilers through Connor McDavid’s absence.
Leon Draisaitl should be the winner of the Hart Trophy this year, but I do think Panarin has a very strong case. Draisaitl, however, has been above and beyond as the most valuable player to his team. He damn near single-handedly kept the Oilers season alive this season and them in the conversation for the Pacific Division title.
There’s little that should deny him from being that award winner and truth be told, he’s going to continue to be a very elite player for a long, long time. He has five years left on his contract at which he will be 29-years-old. Let’s hope the Oilers can make the most of his time with the club.
On Twitter: @zjlaing