Suddenly, that $8.5 million cap hit is looking more and more like a bargain.
Leon Draisaitl has stepped up into one of the NHL’s premier point producers since signing that 8-year, $68 million contract in 2017. This season, he ran away with the Art Ross with 110 points in 71 games. The campaign has also placed him in the MVP discussion.
This season, the German forward began to dispel the belief that he could only produce playing with Connor McDavid. Since the start of 2020, Draisaitl has been part of the most productive second line for the Oilers in at least the past decade, playing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.
To be fair, Draisaitl did play a vast majority of the first half of the 2019-20 season on the top line with McDavid and Zack Kassian, but the emergence of that second line shows that Draisaitl is capable of driving play away from #97. In the first half of the season, Draisaitl scored at a 1.49PPG (pretty good). In the second half, he scored at a 1.65PPG pace (also pretty good).
Do you remember how I just said that Draisaitl has started to get rid of the “He can’t score without McDavid” narrative? This play-in series is going to be the test that shows how true that statement is. McDavid will likely get paired against Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews, meaning that Draisaitl will likely have more offensive opportunities playing on the second line.
Chicago’s defence is, well, less than ideal at the moment. If the ‘Hawks decide to match their best defensive players against McDavid, Draisaitl will have to show that he can carry the offensive load while being separated from McDavid. Alongside Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto, Draisaitl will likely play against Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander. That’s a winnable match-up if Draisaitl can continue to produce at the same pace he did during the regular season.
Draisaitl is going to be key to breaking the Blackhawks’ surprisingly potent penalty kill. Edmonton had the top power play in the league during the regular season. Chicago had the 9th best penalty kill in the league. Draisaitl lead the league in powerplay points this season with 44, one ahead of McDavid’s 43. If Edmonton wants to beat Chicago quickly, they’re going to have to crack that penalty kill wide open, and Draisaitl is posed to be the hammer that does it.
In the playoffs
In any scenario in which Edmonton beats Chicago in the play-in round, Draisaitl is going to have to play a large role. In the playoffs, he’ll only be asked to handle more of the offensive responsibilities.
If he can produce at anything close to the pace he was clicking at during the regular season, the narrative of Draisaitl as a side-car attachment to the McDavid train will change.