How Leon Draisaitl consistently elevates his performance in the playoffs

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
39 minutes ago
In Edmonton’s five-game series victory over the Los Angeles Kings, Leon Draisaitl was on ice for 18 of Edmonton’s 22 goals. 
That equates to 82 percent of Edmonton’s total offence. To put that into perspective, twelve out of the sixteen playoff teams have yet to score over 16 goals.
While the NHL playoffs are a considerably smaller sample size than the regular season, there are always certain players who possess the ability to elevate their play when the stakes are high, the “clutch” players. Draisaitl is a textbook example.
With a staggering 36 goals and 87 points in 54 career playoff games, Draisaitl ranks second all-time in both playoff goals and points per game among all players with a minimum of 20 career playoff games. 
Only Wayne Gretzky ranks ahead in both categories.
“It’s always been my goal to be a big-time player,” said Draisaitl, following Edmonton’s victory in Game 5. “For the most part, I think I’ve done that in my career.”
It should still be noted that Draisaitl’s career playoff game total is lower than the majority of the NHL’s all-time superstars; career PPG rates almost always decline as you play more games and as you get older, since the PPG rates from your older and less effective seasons will weigh down the overall career average. Nonetheless, it should not detract from just how impressive this feat is. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are the only players in NHL history to record more points in their first 54 playoff games than Draisaitl.
Aside from the 2020-21 playoffs, in which Connor Hellebuyck completely stoned the Oilers in four games, Draisaitl’s production has consistently improved come playoff time. For a perennial 40-goal, 100-point scorer who ranks second in the NHL in points in the past four regular seasons, improving upon an already fantastic production rate is far from easy, but Draisaitl somehow manages to accomplish it.
Many often point to Draisaitl’s playing time with McDavid on Edmonton’s lethal power play as the major reason for his elite playoff production. Yes, it is undeniable that Draisaitl heavily benefits from playing alongside the best player in the league on the man advantage.
But what makes Draisaitl’s playoff production even more remarkable is his scoring rates at even strength.
The NHL officially began tracking time-on-ice and making it publicly available in the 1997-98 season. Since 1997, out of all players with a minimum of 25 games played in the playoffs, no player has produced more even-strength points per hour in their playoff career than Leon Draisaitl. 
Of course, the notable flaw with “per 60” metrics is that certain players can have exceedingly high production rates in smaller samples (evident by the inclusion of a guy like Steve Downie on this list, whose career rates are inflated by one seventeen-game playoff run with the Lightning). But, in Draisaitl’s case, 54 playoff games and nearly 1200 minutes remains a reasonably strong sample size. 
While it is undoubtedly true that a significant chunk of Draisaitl’s production comes from the power play, Draisaitl has been just as impressive at even strength in the playoffs throughout his career, even ranking ahead of McDavid in playoff even-strength production rate by a decent margin. That deserves credit.
One common argument used to discredit Draisaitl’s playoff production is opponent strength. Many claim Draisaitl’s playoff production is inflated by how many games Edmonton has played against a supposedly subpar LA Kings team.
I have issues with this notion for two reasons. Firstly, in 15 career playoff games against teams such as the 2022 Avalanche (won the cup), 2022 Flames (111-point team ranking first in the NHL in goals allowed per hour) and the 2023 Golden Knights (won the cup), Draisaitl has a total of 30 points; in the games Draisaitl has played against strong playoff teams, he has still proven he can still produce at elite rates.
Furthermore, the Kings are simply not a mediocre defensive team. In 2021-22, the Kings ranked 9th in the NHL in goals allowed per hour. In 2022-23, the Kings ranked 2nd since the trade deadline. This past season, they still rank tied for 3rd in the NHL on the season, and 2nd since the coaching change.
Los Angeles is notorious for running the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. While it’s certainly not the most fun system to watch, it has been quite effective for the Kings in the regular season when defending the neutral zone. In 2022-23, the Kings ranked 2nd in the league in terms of fewest zone entries leading to scoring chances per hour, per AllThreeZones. This season, no team in the entire league allowed fewer entry scoring chances per hour than LA.
The Kings are certainly not a strong offensive squad, but defensively, they have ranked among the league’s best throughout the past two seasons, and have especially been fantastic at defending the transition. It should not be seen as an easy feat to produce offence off the rush against the Kings at high rates.
However, that has not proven to be an issue for Draisaitl. 
A major reason for the lack of success of LA’s 1-3-1 in the playoffs is that Edmonton’s players have consistently been able to break through their trap, most notably Draisaitl. The league average controlled entry per hour rate is roughly 9.5, while Draisaitl was at a fantastic 23.2 in the 2023 playoffs per my microstat tracking project, nearly 2.5 times the average against a very tight neutral zone. The 1-3-1 limits space and opportunity for opponents to enter the offensive zone with control, typically forcing them to dump it in or ice the puck, but it simply has not stopped Draisaitl from consistently carrying the puck up the ice with possession.
Against LA in the 2023 playoffs, the Oilers finished the series with a 67 percent goal differential off the rush, and Draisaitl was their driving force, who was on-ice for all of Edmonton’s 5v5 rush goals and led team in rush shot contributions per hour. I talked all about it last spring, and made a compilation of his best rush plays after the first five games:

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This has evidently continued in these current playoffs. Per our microstat tracking project in the first round, Draisaitl ranked first on the team in rush shots (7), rush shot assists (10), rush shot contributions (17), and rush scoring chance contributions (9) at 5v5 – ahead of McDavid in all categories.
Here is another highlight reel of Draisaitl’s superb play off the rush, this time in the 2024 playoffs.

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The Kings have already heavily struggled to defend Edmonton’s power-play. Combine this with McDavid and (especially) Draisaitl’s elite ability to consistently infiltrate LA’s 1-3-1, and there was simply no way the Kings would’ve ever emerged victorious against the Oilers in the playoffs without some Herculean effort from their goaltenders. 
Compared to other shot types, such as shots off the forecheck or cycle, rush shots are the most dangerous type on average. Draisaitl’s ability to elevate his rush offence is a big reason why he’s such an effective and dominant force in the playoffs. 
Moving forward, Edmonton should attempt to maximize Draisaitl’s rush offence against greater teams. As noted by Bruce Curlock in a very thorough and detailed review of Game 5, the second line as a whole has had some rough moments in their own zone, as their possession metrics are not exactly pretty. From my eyes, I thought Draisaitl’s backchecking and support down low in the corners were generally quite strong in this series, but I believe linemates are the primary cause for the line’s lackluster possession results. Draisaitl would heavily benefit from another player who could effectively exit the defensive zone to compliment his rush abilities.
Draisaitl’s line has primarily played next to the Nurse – Ceci duo, who have faced struggles at moving the puck out of their zone for two straight regular-seasons and playoffs now. We’re working with small samples here, but Draisaitl holds a 25 percent scoring chance differential with Nurse/Ceci on-ice, which improves to all the way to 60 percent without them. I would play Draisaitl with the Ekholm – Bouchard pairing more often, and potentially even consider moving up McLeod to 2LW.
Draisaitl’s 5-on-5 metrics without McDavid were interestingly the best of his career this past regular season (58 percent goal share, 55 percent scoring chance share). Even without a deployment change, I would still expect his line’s possession metrics to significantly improve moving forward, but receiving more help from linemates when it comes to transitioning the puck out of the zone would make an even greater difference.
Edmonton will face the Vancouver Canucks in Round 2. Since March 1, the Canucks have been among the league’s best teams at suppressing rush chances, and overall high-danger chances per SportLogIQ. In order to win this series, Edmonton will require Draisaitl at his best in transition.
As time has proven again and again, I expect him to continue to step up when the stakes are high.
*All stats via Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)


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