There’s no debate: Leon Draisaitl is the second best player in the world
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
This article isn’t to disparage Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Sidney Crosby or anybody else who tends to be the answer to the question “Who is the best hockey player in the world after Connor McDavid?”
But if there’s one thing that Leon Draisaitl has shown us these playoffs, it’s that he’s the second-best player in the world, and it’s not much of an argument. Let’s go through how Draisaitl has taken his game to another level this spring…
Playoffs count for more:
Heading into Monday’s Game 3 of the second round, the German-born player has 13 goals and 17 points in just eight games. If you were to remove his four assists, he’d still rank tied for fourth in points, only behind the turtle Matthew Tkachuk, Connor McDavid, and Evan Bouchard.
The 27-year-old centre always finds another level in the playoffs, dating back to his breakout season in the 2017 playoffs. McDavid was held (quite literally by Kesler) to a measly 9 points in 13 games in the 2017 playoffs. It was Draisaitl’s 16 points in 13 games that led the Oilers to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals that season.
Of course, he still was a point-per-game player in the two playoff series we shall not talk about against the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets, but the team as a whole sucked those two seasons.
Despite a high ankle sprain throughout much of the 2022 playoffs, Leon Draisaitl absolutely dominated on a line with Connor McDavid, scoring seven goals and leading the playoffs with 25 assists. His 32 points in that run were one-less than Connor McDavid, who lead the playoffs in scoring.
Even though he was two points per game in 2022, the German has found another level in the 2023 playoffs, as he’s putting up Gretzky-like numbers. As mentioned, he has 13 goals in eight games. Let’s just contextualize that for a second.
His 2023 playoff has been otherworldly:
Usually, you want to use comparisons to prove how good a player is. Sadly for me, there is no such comparison to what Draisaitl has done so far through eight games.
Since 2014, the most goals in a playoff has been 13-15. In fact, since the 2000 playoffs, there has only been a 15-goal scorer twice. Sidney Crosby in 2009, and Alexander Ovechkin in 2018. It falls anywhere from 8 (there were seven players who had eight goals in 2012) to the 15 mark.
The least number of games needed to capture the goal-scoring lead was when Johan Franzén did so in 2008, needing just 16 games to score 13 goals. Still, Draisaitl has done that in half as many games.
Out of the 22 playoffs I covered, there were only two times when a player in sole possession of the goal-scoring lead in the playoffs didn’t make the Stanley Cup Finals. Former Oiler Mike Cammalleri did so with the Canadians in 2010, scoring 13 goals in 19 games en route to an Eastern Conference Final exit. Logan Couture also did it in 2019 with the San Jose Sharks, scoring 14 goals in 20 games with a Western Conference Final exit.
Now, you have a few seasons where players scored the goal-scoring lead. Evander Kane scored 13 goals in 15 games for the Oilers last season, but we all know how many goals Edmonton scored. They were also bounced in the Western Conference Finals.
The other time it happened was when Daniel Brière and Claude Giroux did it for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012. The former played 11 games, while the latter only played 10. Moreover, the Flyers were bounced in Game 5 of the Semi-Finals, so what gives? Well, their first series against the Pittsburgh Pirates had 56 goals in just six games. Absolutely insane.
So yeah, if you have a leading scoring in the playoffs, there’s a good chance they’ve at least made it to the Conference Finals, but more likely, the team they played for made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Leon Draisaitl gets the job done in the regular season:
Here’s a list of active players with three or more 50+ goal seasons. Ready?
- Alexander Ovechkin, who has done it nine different times.
- Leon Draisaitl, who has done it three times.
The only other player who has done it more than once is Steven Stamkos, doing so in the 2009-10 season and the 2011-12 season. He still scores quite a bit, as he had 34 goals this past season and 42 the season before, but he may never reach his early 10s standard.
Other active players that have hit the 50-goal mark just once include: Sidney Crosby (2009-10), Chris Kreider (2021-22), Evgeni Malkin (2011-12), Auston Matthews (2021-22), Connor McDavid (2022-23), David Pastrnak (2022-23), Corey Perry (2010-11), Brayden Point (2022-23), and Mikko Rantanen (2022-23). That’s some elite company.
Draisaitl has also hit the 100-point plateau four times. Here are the only other active players who have done it four or more times. Alexander Ovechkin (4), Connor McDavid (5), Sidney Crosby (6).
Guys like Evgeni Malin, Nikita Kucherov, and Matthew Tkachuk have done it a few times, and Joe Thornton is still listed as an active player (he’s done it three times), but once again, Draisaitl is in elite company.
What do the naysayers say?:
Let’s just run through a few common phrases that Draisaitl detractors use to downplay just how elite the German is.
“He’s only putting up those points because he plays with McDavid”
It’s not uncommon for teams to create super lines with their best players. The Leafs played Mitch Marner with Auston Matthews for 539 minutes in 2022-23. The Bruin’s first line is David Pastrňák, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron, two 100-point scorers and one of the best two-way players of all time.
With that being said, yes, McDavid does sometimes play on a line with Draisaitl, 469 minutes in 2022-23 to be exact, but all elite teams do this. Moreover, Draisaitl played 800 minutes away from McDavid. While McDavid helps elevate Draisaitl’s game, the same can be said for the effect that Draisaitl has on McDavid’s game.
“Leon Draisaitl is a power play merchant”
This is actually partially true. In terms of even strength points, he only had 64 in the regular season, which ranks him 13th. However, he was only four points behind Jack Hughes, who was tied for sixth in even strength points.
There’s a weird view in the hockey community which sees power play points as lesser. Is it easier to score on the power play? Sure. With that being said, it counts as a goal all the same. Furthermore, every team usually gets a few power plays a game. The Oilers had the sixth most opportunities, but they made it count with a record-breaking 32.4 power play percentage.
I just find it weird when people complain about this.
“Teams focus on McDavid, allowing Draisaitl to shine.”
Again, this is absolutely true. Teams that have two number-one centres are blessed, because you can deploy one against a weaker matchup. The Pittsburgh Penguins did this for years with Sidney Crosby as their first-line centre and Evgeni Malkin as their second-line centre.
Heck, the same can be said of Toronto deploying Auston Matthews as their first-line centre and John Tavares as their second-line centre.
Even going back to the dynasty 80s, Mark Messier was in the shadow of Wayne Gretzky. It took him winning a cup without Gretzky for people to realize that Messier was a great player in his own right, according to Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson.
The only way that Draisaitl can shake this particular criticism off is if he and McDavid are on separate teams. However, this is why Leon Draisaitl is the second-best player in the league, not the first.
Will Draisaitl break the record for playoff goals in a season?
The record for the most goals in a single playoff is owned by Reggie Leach and Jari Kurri at 19. The former did it with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1975-76 season, and needed just 16 games to reach that mark. The latter, an Oiler at the time, did it in 1984-85, and needed 18 goals to do so.
The Oilers have at least three games remaining in this year’s playoffs, meaning that Draisaitl will need to score at least two goals a game if the Oilers were to lose in five. However, that doesn’t seem likely as the Oilers are facing a weaker goaltender in Laurent Brossoit.
I think there’s a good chance that Draisaitl breaks this record, perhaps even before he reaches the 16-game mark. If he does so, maybe that will be enough for everyone to realize that Leon Draisaitl is the second-best player in the world. Screw what the analytics say.
If you enjoy my content, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D.
Recent articles from Brennan Delaney