Leon Draisaitl, Jack of all Trades?

Jonathan Willis
March 02 2017 03:22PM

29-Draisaitl-7

Even without a real third line centre this year, Todd McLellan and his staff kept bumping Leon Draisaitl over to right wing on the Edmonton Oilers’ top line. At the deadline, the Oilers brought a legitimate candidate in to fill that third line role in David Desharnais. Thus it seemed like a logical assumption that this would lead to full-time deployment of a McDavid/Draisaitl duo on the top line.

McLellan talked to the press on Thursday, and explained that such an assumption was not at all in line with his thinking on the subject.

Todd McLellan10

Asked whether Draisaitl would be used full-time on the top line, McLellan acknowledged that having Desharnais made that configuration easier but shot down the idea that Edmonton would go to static line combinations:

“It gives us that luxury. Whether we use it all the time or not, and it will depend on David’s play and others, having a little more depth down the middle allows us to choose to keep Leon up there. But if that line isn’t going well, if our group isn’t going well, if a team is shutting down a group of players, well then Leon’s going to go somewhere else and try and get a line going.”

The top line running into a slump is always a possibility, but the more likely reason for a change would be trouble elsewhere. The Oilers’ secondary scoring has been one of the relatively few negative storylines this season, and it’s arguably a problem that has been made worse by the frequent decision to play the team’s two most effective forwards together.

Right now things are going well. The trio of Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have scored three even-strength goals in the last five games, with the rest of the club’s attackers (including the top line) combining for four. If that changes, Draisaitl could well be shifted down again.

That’s really what we’re looking for. We’re not just looking to keep Connor and Leon together all the time, we’re looking for success. Leon’s been tremendous with it. He’s been able to go all over the map, all over the board and find success with whoever he’s playing with. I think that’s a sign of a real good player.

Obviously, nobody is going to argue with an overarching goal of team success. Few would even disagree with the idea of having a player or two whose specific role is something akin to duct tape, being used here and there whenever there’s a need to keep things from coming apart.

Where there’s room for a little bit of skepticism is the claim that Draisaitl is that player.

I’ve been critical for most of the year of the way McLellan kept going back to the McDavid/Draisaitl tandem, especially given the way it opened up holes further down the lineup. But being a coach is all about juggling conflicting responsibilities, and when I looked at how Draisaitl’s various lines have performed this season McLellan’s reasons for preferring that combination looked awfully clear.

Via puckalytics.com, every Draisiatl forward combo that has spent at least 30 minutes together at 5-on-5 this year:

Left Wing Centre Right Wing TOI GF GA GD/60 CF CA CD/60
Maroon McDavid Draisaitl 320.9 18 11 1.31 312 252 11.22
Maroon Draisaitl Puljujarvi 70.6 2 0 1.70 72 53 16.15
Lucic McDavid Draisaitl 67.4 3 4 -0.89 79 50 25.82
Maroon RNH Draisaitl 50.4 1 0 1.19 41 41 0.00
Lucic Draisaitl Pitlick 46.6 2 3 -1.29 29 38 -11.59
Lucic Draisaitl Slepyshev 40.1 1 1 0.00 33 47 -20.95

The three numbers to watch are ice-time (TOI), goal differential per hour (GD/60) and Corsi differential per hour (CD/60).

Draisaitl’s really been at his best in a defined role. Early in the year, that was as a centre between Patrick Maroon and Jesse Puljujarvi. That line didn’t score a lot in its hour-or-so of existence, but it had a massive edge on the shot clock and it certainly didn’t get scored on. Of late, that’s been on McDavid’s right wing, either with Maroon or Milan Lucic.

What hasn’t worked as well are Draisaitl’s stints on other lines. As right wing with Nugent-Hopkins the results were not great. As a centre with Lucic and a rotating right wing, they were worse. I still look at Lucic and Draisaitl and wonder if there isn’t some combination of those two that would work well, but given the results it isn’t hard to figure why McLellan doesn’t want to experiment.

Nevertheless, it is plain that the coach likes having the player, and he drew on a specific parallel from his time in San Jose to drive the point home:

Joe Pavelski was like that for us in San Jose all those years; you could move him all over and those lines had success.

This isn’t the first time that McLellan has referenced Pavelski. It’s been a little over a year since the Oilers coach compared one of his centres to the versatile Sharks forward. Back then, the comment was in reference to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and came right after McLellan told the assembled media that he believed in that player “100 percent.”

It would seem that Draisaitl has displaced Nugent-Hopkins as McLellan’s all-purpose centre. Given the years they’re having, it’s hard to argue against the 21-year-old Draisaitl as the best fit for that role on the roster.

Nevertheless, his results this season haven’t come all over; they’ve come mostly from one place. Draisaitl has been most effective as McDavid’s right wing. That’s why he’s spent so much time there this year regardless of what it did to the team’s third line. Now that Desharnais is around, there’s going to be even less temptation to bump Draisaitl off that wing. 

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 OilCan2
March 02 2017, 03:37PM
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Leon is a difference maker.

Remember how him and Hallsy lit things up last season?

I for one would like to see him go on a Pisani esque run this post season.

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#2 Druds
March 02 2017, 03:44PM
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This .... www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVLZ1LUO8fU

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#3 Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89
March 02 2017, 03:45PM
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When I first read the title

I thought I saw 'off'

Shwew. That's a relief it wasn't

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#4 The Rookie
March 02 2017, 03:48PM
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As exciting as this year has been, I look fwd to watching McDavid, Draisaitl and JP in 2-3 years. They should be dominating thru out the line up.

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#5 Oil & Gas Hockey
March 02 2017, 03:56PM
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I worry about Draisaitl's conditioning again this time last year as he's made some lazy giveaways and admitted to them as of late. Last year, he dropped off considerably, likely due to the rigours of the road and longer season than what he was used to.

If he can dig in and turn it around, then yes, he can be that jack of all trades all the way through.

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#6 Shredder
March 02 2017, 03:58PM
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I wonder if he'll ever try RNH on the RW spot and Dr. Drai in the middle of the 2nd line...think it'd work? Cheers for yes, Trash it for no.

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#7 TKB2677
March 02 2017, 04:06PM
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I think it's great. The more versatility a player has, the better. Gives you way more options. I wish Nuge was more versatile. Maybe he is but given his struggles this season at center, you'd think McLellan would have tried him on the wing more than he has. So maybe there is a reason.

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#8 toprightcorner
March 02 2017, 04:15PM
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Nobody else has had nearly as much success playing with McDavid because they don't have the same hockey IQ as Leon. When Drai played 2C, Nuge was horrible on the 3rd line and to get him out of his funk they are trying to keep him with offensive players.

This team is still in a development year and they won't deviate from developing a few players to be versatile and since Nuge wasn't succeeding at that, Leon was the man. I am happy McLellan and Chairelli aren't rushing the development of some players because of the success the team has had. Draisaitls development is versatility and that will benefit the team long term.

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#9 Towersofdub
March 02 2017, 04:18PM
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nuge is fine where he is.

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#10 fran huckzky
March 02 2017, 04:18PM
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As long as we keep winning I don't really care who plays where or with who. In Todd and Chia We Trust.

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#11 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
March 02 2017, 04:20PM
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OilCan2 wrote:

Leon is a difference maker.

Remember how him and Hallsy lit things up last season?

I for one would like to see him go on a Pisani esque run this post season.

I would like to see the Oilers go on a 2006 esque run this post season. And, frankly, for Draisaitl to not overachieve. He'd be looking for an obscene amount of cash next year if he goes all 2006 Pisani this year!

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#12 Spydyr
March 02 2017, 04:23PM
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Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy! wrote:

I would like to see the Oilers go on a 2006 esque run this post season. And, frankly, for Draisaitl to not overachieve. He'd be looking for an obscene amount of cash next year if he goes all 2006 Pisani this year!

I hope they win a round in the playoffs but the don't have a Pronger like they did in 2006.

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#13 916oiler
March 02 2017, 04:23PM
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As much as we love(d) Davidson, which was a lot, let's not forget that we have plenty of 3rd line Defensemen AND that Desharnais has had 48, 52, and 60 point seasons between 2012-2015.

Hopefully Caggiula can develop into a player like that, but right now he's still a developing rookie. It's nice to have a proven veteran in the 3C role, despite his less than imposing stature.

Our team is better than before the trade without giving up anything that we would have lost to Vegas anyway.

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#14 toprightcorner
March 02 2017, 04:27PM
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I beleive the long term plan is to have Draisaitl as 2C permanently next year. I think that Nuge was in the plans after the Hall trade but I that has likely changed with Nuge regressing instead of progressing.

With Chairelli adding Desharnais at the deadline, i think he is showing his hand by wanting a solid veteran center with average offense at a reasonable price. I don't think DD is the answer, but a right shot 3C that is solid defensively and 50% on the dot is what they will be searching hard for and Nuge will likely be sent out to get that player or a RD with offense.

Keeping Nuge with Lucic and Eberle isn't hurting the team and if he can get back on track for the next 18 games and a solid playoff performance, it will definitely increase his trade value. That alone is worth keeping Draisaitl on McDavids wing.

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#15 Big Jacks Meat
March 02 2017, 04:44PM
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Hmm and some questioned Leon or Bennet. That's been put to rest NO CONTEST !!

CANADA DRAI ROCKS.

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#16 toprightcorner
March 02 2017, 05:05PM
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Oil & Gas Hockey wrote:

I worry about Draisaitl's conditioning again this time last year as he's made some lazy giveaways and admitted to them as of late. Last year, he dropped off considerably, likely due to the rigours of the road and longer season than what he was used to.

If he can dig in and turn it around, then yes, he can be that jack of all trades all the way through.

Draisaitl played 20 very hard fought games before the season with the World cup of Hockey and Germany's Olympic qualifying so this is not a repeat of last year. He has played 25% more games so busy schedules will affect him more.

He was a bit tired near the end of a very hard road trip after 3 games in 4 nights but after a 2 day rest he looked good against STL and will be able to rest up with a long homestand.

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#17 toprightcorner
March 02 2017, 05:14PM
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Shredder wrote:

I wonder if he'll ever try RNH on the RW spot and Dr. Drai in the middle of the 2nd line...think it'd work? Cheers for yes, Trash it for no.

The reason I don't think that would work is Nuge prefers to pass and so does McDavid. Nuge also isnt very good along the boards as a winger and doesn't go to the net or stand in front of the net like Draisaitl gets a lot of his points.

Also Draisaitl takes most of the draws on that line since he is better than McDavid but Nuge is worse.

Nobody knows until they try it but I think McLellan would put Kassian or Schleppy there before Nuge.

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#18 toprightcorner
March 02 2017, 05:25PM
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Big Jacks Meat wrote:

Hmm and some questioned Leon or Bennet. That's been put to rest NO CONTEST !!

CANADA DRAI ROCKS.

I am sure Kelly Hrudey would disagree as he has a crush on Bennet. 30 games into his rookie season, last year, he rated Bennet ahead of Nuge and Draisaitl as centers.

Jeff O'Niell would tell you that Nylander is better than Draisaitl in that draft and wouldn't make that trade today.

I think Draisaitl could give Ekblad a run for his money as the best of that draft class.

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#19 FISTO Siltanen
March 02 2017, 06:00PM
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Big Jacks Meat wrote:

Hmm and some questioned Leon or Bennet. That's been put to rest NO CONTEST !!

CANADA DRAI ROCKS.

Bennett? You mean Nail Bennett Flames fans were falling all over themselves about in 2014?

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#20 S cottV
March 02 2017, 08:44PM
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Shredder wrote:

I wonder if he'll ever try RNH on the RW spot and Dr. Drai in the middle of the 2nd line...think it'd work? Cheers for yes, Trash it for no.

I think it is very strange that McL hasn't given Maroon McD Nuge a test drive.

McD and Drai are great together, but despite the recent uptick - the 2nd line is likely to struggle.

Nuge and Eberle are soft one and doners, which doesn't match up with Lucic, who needs to play an o zone possession game. Nuge is also gonna get eaten in his own end.

Drai is a better c than Nuge, but riding shotgun with McD, has cost him valuable experience that he needs - driving his own line from the middle in top 6.

I think McL is being short sighted, over playing the McD Drai card. I would at least give a look at something like,

Maroon McD Nuge

Lucic Drai Kassian

Pouliot Desharnais Eberle

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#21 country mac
March 02 2017, 09:29PM
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Sam bennett the 3 of spades,

we pulled the trump card on the draw in the 2014 draft

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#22 the dope $teez
March 02 2017, 10:34PM
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What is apparent to me in this article is that Lucic is a boat anchor.

Small sample size, I know.

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#23 Oilerchild77
March 02 2017, 10:53PM
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Shredder wrote:

I wonder if he'll ever try RNH on the RW spot and Dr. Drai in the middle of the 2nd line...think it'd work? Cheers for yes, Trash it for no.

I'm actually floored that they haven't tried that already. If MacDavid can't get Nuge going, nothing will.

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#24 S cottV
March 03 2017, 07:22AM
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the dope $teez wrote:

What is apparent to me in this article is that Lucic is a boat anchor.

Small sample size, I know.

I would agree - some concern, but - one of the key reasons to break up McL Drai, is to get Lucic in his element and hopefully better results.

You tell Drai to cut some of the cute stuff and drive that line as a big man in the middle, focusing more on deep possession.

Go with Lucic Drai Kassian and it might make a huge difference.

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#25 That's My Point
March 03 2017, 08:14AM
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toprightcorner wrote:

I am sure Kelly Hrudey would disagree as he has a crush on Bennet. 30 games into his rookie season, last year, he rated Bennet ahead of Nuge and Draisaitl as centers.

Jeff O'Niell would tell you that Nylander is better than Draisaitl in that draft and wouldn't make that trade today.

I think Draisaitl could give Ekblad a run for his money as the best of that draft class.

Currently Draisaitl has TWICE as many points as Nylander.

114 fro Draisaitl vs 57 for Nylander.

Draisaitl has more points than everyone from his 2014 draft year.

Might be a keeper.

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#26 Oiler Al
March 03 2017, 08:39AM
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That's My Point wrote:

Currently Draisaitl has TWICE as many points as Nylander.

114 fro Draisaitl vs 57 for Nylander.

Draisaitl has more points than everyone from his 2014 draft year.

Might be a keeper.

Draisaitl -173 HNHL games, Nylander -84 games. Not saying Nylander is better, buy Dri, has played more games.I only wish Dri had Nylanders energy!

Dri most shifts looks tired and or out of shape.

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#27 btrain
March 03 2017, 12:06PM
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In my opinion, McDavid is a bit of a one man army without Drai. Most of his own scoring chances he largely creates for himself and then he almost exclusively takes the role of set-up man. Which he is also phenomenal at! However, if he starts to develop a bit more of a shooter mentality, he is going to be more effective at utilizing and involving his line mates. Essentially by adding the shooting element to his game, defenders are having more to think about. If they respect his shot, it creates space for his line mates to receive a pass or go for a rebound, if they close off passing lanes, he will have a more dangerous shot for himself. Not to mention they already have to worry about him blowing past them at any moment.

When the shooter mentality develops, he will not require another driver on his line for consistent success. Drai could then be utilized appropriately by driving his own line. Honestly, though it is a bit of a critique, for me, I just think McDavid has barely scratched the surface of what he is capable of. Considering that he leads the league in points, that is an unbelievable statement to make but one that's hard to argue against considering his age and what he has already done.

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#28 Randaman
March 03 2017, 01:57PM
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the dope $teez wrote:

What is apparent to me in this article is that Lucic is a boat anchor.

Small sample size, I know.

You mean the same Lucic that fought the guy that hammered the Nuge into the boards last game?

Big picture people! Hall would've skated away!

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#29 btrain
March 03 2017, 02:03PM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Draisaitl -173 HNHL games, Nylander -84 games. Not saying Nylander is better, buy Dri, has played more games.I only wish Dri had Nylanders energy!

Dri most shifts looks tired and or out of shape.

Scoring goals doesn't guarantee you success. Just look at Dallas and how far they have fallen despite still being one of the top scoring teams in the league. The biggest difference between Toronto and Dallas, my opinion, is that Dallas plays stronger competition more regularly and they have weak goaltending. Nylander can get his points and bring his energy all day but I would rather have a 200ft centerman, with size, ability to protect/cycle the puck, maintain possession, and then also put the puck in the net on a regular basis. I just don't see how Drai is anything but superior when you consider the complete package.

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