Photo credit:Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
When we first laid eyes on Leon Draisaitl as a member of the Edmonton Oilers back in 2014-15, a large segment of the eyeballs keeping tabs on the big German from Cologne deemed him a pass-first type of player. Back then, he was.
While Draisaitl has lived up to that billing as one of the best passers in the NHL, particularly on the backhand, he’s so much better in every aspect of the game than he was back then. Exhibit A of that would be goal scoring, as we saw again last night in a 6-1 waltz over the Buffalo Sabres.
Draisaitl, 26, hit the 40-goal plateau for the third time in his NHL career with the 3-0 goal against the Sabres — he scored 50 in 2018-19 and had 43 in 2019-20 — giving him 239 goals and 590 points in 539 games. Looks like he’ll take another run at 50 before he’s done this season.
Over the course of his last four regular seasons, the pass-first guy named Draisaitl has sharpened up his shooter’s eye and scored 164 goals. That’s more than teammate Connor McDavid. More than Alexander Ovechkin. More than anybody except Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who has 170. And Draisaitl still makes a sweet feed.
Dec 31, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) talk during overtime of their game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
What we saw against Buffalo last night was McDavid between @Evander Kane and @Kailer Yamamoto, who made it 1-0 and has goals in four straight games. Draisaitl was between Zach Hyman, who has 20 goals and looks destined to blow past his career-high of 21, and @Jesse Puljujarvi, in his first game since Feb. 17.
That can change and likely will, but coach Jay Woodcroft has a solid looking top six with that group. They were certainly too much for the Sabres to handle. Hyman, who had two assists, was hustling and trying to make something happen on every shift. He looked every bit as good alongside Draisaitl as when playing with McDavid. Woodcroft has options.
“I think every game he kind of endears himself to his teammates and his coaches,” Woodcroft said of Hyman. “You never have to worry about his effort level. I think he had a couple assists tonight and helped set up some goals, but he did a lot of other good things on the forecheck, on the cycle . . . that line with Leon and Jesse has all the makings of a big, tough line that can really grind a team down in their own end.”
As for Kane-McDavid-Yamamoto: “Well, you have the speed element and the puck handling element with Connor coming through the neutral zone and what he can do in the offensive zone,” Woodcroft said. “I don’t think he’s getting enough credit for what he’s doing defensively. He makes a lot of really good subtle plays in his own zone. He stops on pucks. He had some really good box-outs tonight as well.
“You have someone with a ‘dog on a bone’ mindset in Yamamoto, someone who wins pucks and 50-50 battles all over the rink. Then you add the size and skill of an Evander Kane, I think it has the elements or recipe of a good line. They’ve been playing well together. A few weeks ago, we flipped the centres. We’ve got some good responses from everybody involved. That line has been a heckuva line for us and they continue to pace us.”