The Edmonton Oilers are still playing good hockey but after a red-hot start to the season, the they cooled down from their unbeatable pace at the beginning of the year. Now with an average three wins in their last six games and only seven wins in the last 15, division rivals like the Sharks and the Ducks have overtaken them in the standings. The Oilers are still in a playoff position but it seems rather clear that the play of Connor McDavid is the reason they’re still afloat. McDavid is leading the league scoring race with 46 points (14-32) and has no doubt been one of, if not the best player in the NHL. But without McDavid on the ice, the Oilers arestill a below-average team.
Even so, there is one other player in Edmonton who is scoring at a high rate for the team right now. Leon Draisaitl has 34 points in 41 games, with 14 goals and 20 assists. There’s no doubt that sometimes playing on a line with McDavid has boosted Draisaitl’s stats, but he is developing into a nice number two option at center for the Oilers in place of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who still has yet to pay dividends after going first overall in 2011.
Draisaitl is a German-born player who made his way to the WHL, playing for the Prince Albert Raiders and later the Kelowna Rockets. With the Raiders, Draisaitl put up 58 points in his first season and 105 in his second, vaulting him to a third overall selection in the 2014 Draft. Draisaitl was lauded for his size and production ability. While not an elite skater, he creates opportunities with smart play, patience, and his size. He has a great pass, and ability to find his teammates. He’s another top-tier talent that fell into the Oilers’ laps.
Despite his ability, Draisaitl struggled during his first crack at the NHL. Against faster and larger opponents, he often found himself outclassed. The Oilers gave him 37 games in 2014-15, burning a year of ELC eligibility, before sending him back to the WHL. During those 37 games, Draisaitl only managed two goals and seven assists. He often played on the wing as opposed to his natural center position, and found some success with Taylor Hall, but credit the Oilers for recognizing he was not ready yet. The extra time to mature seems to have done him much good. Coming back in 2015-16, Draisaitl spent a handful of games in the AHL, and then produced 51 points in 72 games for the Oilers. He moved to center and looked like he was developing into the player the Oilers thought they drafted.
This year Draisaitl has continued down that same path. He looks fully comfortable in the NHL at this point, and able to handle big minutes against tough opposition. He has a CF% of 51.5, and while he has played ample minutes with McDavid, much of his time has been spent playing with Patrick Maroon and Jessu Puljujarvi. Let’s also not forget who the Oilers have on defense. There aren’t any names there known for making a great first pass or really driving possession. Draisaitl continues to use his speed and smarts to outplay opponents and generate opportunities. He also chips in a 52% face-off win percentage. He is the second line center that the Oilers need, hurdling over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for that role. As the 21-year-old continues to develop, he will provide a heavy one-two punch for the Oilers down the middle with McDavid.
In order for the Oilers to find future success and make a deep playoff run, they will no doubt rely heavily on McDavid, but they will also need team depth, and Leon Draisaitl goes a long way in making the Oilers more competitive. He has shown this year that he is ready to play big-time minutes against tough opposition and can score at an elite rate.