As we move through the 2019 off-season, putting more and more space and time in between the present and the disappointing 2018-19 (time heals all wounds, right?), we can crack a Nation Beer and sit back a reflect. So, before we pour the last shovels of dirt on the season we want to forget, we’re taking a look at how some of the best players on the Oilers roster performed, what we might be able to glean from it, and how that’ll translate to a better tomorrow. Today we’re looking at everybody’s favourite German: Leon Draisaitl.

82 50 55 105 22:35 5 231 21.6 50.5

Leon had an incredible year. He was one of the best players in the NHL, finishing fourth in NHL scoring– one of six players to break the 100-point barrier– and second in goal-scoring, finishing behind only the greatest goal-scorer in league history, Alex Ovechkin. Since Leon played in his first NHL season in 2014-15, only three other wingers have eclipsed the 100-point mark: LW Brad Marchand this past season, and RWs Patrick Kane (this past season as well), and Nikita Kucherov the past two seasons.

Best of a Nation

Marco Sturm 938 242 245 487
Jochen Hecht 833 186 277 463
Christian Ehrhoff 789 74 265 339
Leon Draisaitl 351 125 187 312

After his 105-point season, Draisaitl is already the fourth-highest scoring German-born player to play in the NHL, and at the rate he’s producing, there’s no doubt that he’ll be the greatest in three seasons or less. (but man, do I have a soft spot for Olaf Kolzig)

But, in order to get there, he has to continue to contribute, so let’s take a deeper look at how Leon contributed to the Oilers in terms of offence this past season.

(All counts are at Even Strength)

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off. Zone Start %
49.10 51.09 49.82 280/324 46.36 12.4 .889 1.013 53.92

Surprisingly lower than expected. More shot attempts coming against while on the ice, but more goals going the other way– most likely a result of Leon’s personal shooting percentage– which is what ultimately matters. With the higher offensive zone starts, Drai was certainly put in a position to control possession, so it is a little troubling that the chances would tilt that drastically.

But of course, these counts are always tied to other players on the ice– and certainly for the Oilers, goaltending played a factor– so let’s look at Leon’s relative counts.

(All counts at Even Strength. Relative counts considered with skaters playing a minimum of 500 minutes)

CF% Rel GF% Rel GF/60 Rel SCF% Rel SCF/60 Rel HDCF% Rel HDGF% Rel
1.45 9.82 2.08 2.48 4.9 -1.35 9.67

Comparing players on an underperforming team has to be taken with a grain of salt. But, it’s clear that Leon is a key cog in the (albeit sputtering) Oilers scoring machine. Leon’s 50 bingos are obviously the reason for the disparity in relative goals, especially considering that one of the biggest issues of the ’18-’19 Oilers was the non-existence of secondary scoring; if he wasn’t on the ice scoring one of those fifty, and Connor was sitting on the bench next to him, then no one else was. But it’s clear that Draisaitl’s shooting percentage is a factor here: though the goals were there, the chances weren’t because he simply wasn’t firing enough shots at the net.

But, as always, the individual numbers don’t tell the entire story. So let’s look at the players Leon skated next to the most during the season.

(Again, all counts are at Even Strength)

w/ Connor McDavid

888:04 ES TOI Together

51.69 55.56 52.30 50.88 57.14 15.27 .877 1.030

Let’s be honest, it’s nearly impossible to separate Connor and Leon, but it’s undebatable that their chemistry translates to the most on-ice production. The Corsi numbers aren’t in an elite realm, which is a little surprising, but the goal-scoring is and, again, that’s ultimately what matters. The shooting percentage is high, but not ridiculously high, so it’s safe to say that their production together is sustainable.

Now, there is the opinion that Leon has only benefitted from riding shotgun with Connor and that his numbers are inflated. So before we look at how Draisaitl played with other players without Connor on the ice, let’s see how the duo played without one another.

Leon W/O Connor 576:43 45.00 38.78 45.59 42.01 35.71 7.12 .908 .979
Connor W/O Leon 594:49 48.75 39.29 49.25 48.25 48.25 7.17 .898 .970

They played nearly the same amount of time without each other, and the counts are strikingly similar. It’s no surprise that Connor’s are better, and this of course is partly a reflection of the dearth of secondary talent on the roster, but it’s clear that the two bring out the best in one another.

But, should Dave Tippett choose to spread the offensive wealth around, here are the players that Draisaitl played with the most without Connor on the ice.

(Once again, counts are at Even Strength)

w/ Alex Chiasson

330:48 ES TOI Together

46.71 56.25 50.00 47.32 45.45 5.92 .957 1.016

This pair spent a surprisingly high amount of time together, and Chiasson and Leon executed goal-scoring at an elite level, while also weirdly having a ridiculously high save percentage when on the ice together. Chiasson might not even be on the team next year, and he had a career year that might never be replicated, but they seemed to have some sort of goal-scoring chemistry together.

w/ Tobias Rieder

283:55 ES TOI Together

46.08 46.15 50.62 51.52 42.86 4.62 .949 .995

Again, a player that is most certainly not on the 2019-20 roster, but Leon’s fellow countryman had the anti-Chiasson season, possibly the worst of his young career, and so it’s no surprise that these numbers are nothing to write home about. But, maybe if Rieder had scored at least ten goals then these counts would be on the better side of 50% and the Oilers would’ve made the playoffs…

w/ Milan Lucic

100:16 ES TOI Together

45.09 22.22 40.00 24.24 20.00 6.67 .883 .936

Well, there’s some sort of theme going on here. Yet another player who might be checking this summer as he heads to another team’s training camp. But with the amount of attention that’s been paid to Milan’s rapidly decaying offensive skills, it should come to no surprise that these numbers are absolutely abysmal. There is nothing redeemable about this pairing with goal-scoring, shooting percentages, and save percentages so bad it’s criminal that Leon played one minute with Lucic let alone one hundred.

(Author’s note: I still want to like Milan, but it’s really really hard…)

w/ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

95:31 ES TOI Together

46.49 30.77 41.94 35.90 16.67 8.16 .845 .926

Again, not much to see. These two didn’t play frequently together, but even the short time together didn’t yield anything worth considering for next season. Two great players, who belong in the same dressing room but not on the same line.

So the pessimistic view to take from this is that Draisaitl can’t generate enough offence when he centres his own line, and therefore isn’t realizing his full potential. But it took the Penguins a long time to find a suitable winger for Sidney Crosby, and this is further evidence that the Tippett regime should not insist that Draisaitl needs to be the pivot on his own line. Draisaitl was drafted with the position section on his scouting report filled in with a “C” instead of a “LW” and he just can’t seem shake that. Leon’s a winger, a really good winger, with Connor McDavid as his centre.

Final Thought

Since the 2004-05 lockout, there have been twenty-three times that the 50-goal benchmark has been surpassed. Nine of those instances have come from Ovechkin, and two each by Ilya Kovalchuk, Steven Stamkos, and Dany Heatley (FWIW, Ovie finished the lockout-shortened ’12-’13 season with 32 goals, which projects to 54 goals over an 82 game season). This means that in thirteen years, there have been twelve individual 50-goal scorers: Leon, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Heatley, Stamkos, Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Cheechoo, Vincent Lecavalier, Jarome Iginla, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Evgeny Malkin.

The question that then comes to mind: Is Leon a Cheechoo or a Stamkos? It’s a fair question. Cheechoo benefited from riding shotgun to a transcendent centreman in Joe Thornton, leading to a career year and never coming anywhere near that pinnacle again. The difference I’ll mention is that Cheechoo was one of five 50+ goal-scorers that year (the most in a season since the lockout), while Leon is the only player other than Ovechkin to surpass 50 goals since the ’11-’12 season, which was done by Malkin and Stamkos. Not to mention that he and Ovechkin are the only players to score 50 this year after the NHL saw a two-year absence of anyone hitting that mark. The point to all of this it’s harder now to score 50 than when Cheechoo did it, and throughout this piece, I wrote the name “Draisaitl” next to “Ovechkin, a lot, along with some casual mentions of “Crosby,” “Malkin,” and “Stamkos.” That’s a Hellfire Club of NHL talent, and it means something that he’s playing at a level that puts him in a conversation with that elite group.

The shooting percentage can’t be ignored as a bit of a red flag, so when it inevitably drops next season that’ll be something to keep an eye on. But out of all of the aforementioned 50-scorers, all but four did it with less than 300 shots on goal, and even the ones who did, flirted with it (Stamkos 297, Crosby 298 in ’09-’10; Perry 290 in ’10-’11). Leon had 223 last year. So yes, a 21.6 shooting percentage is undeniably high, and unsustainable, but by accepting the fact that Leon is a winger– an elite winger– and letting go of the idea that he needs to run his own line to be valuable and just letting him be a triggerman and fire more shots at the net will counterbalance a drop in shooting percentage.

I didn’t even mention that $8.5 AAV for the next six seasons is highway robbery at this point.