When Connor McDavid went down with a broken clavicle on Nov. 3, it seemed like the Oilers were destined to finish another season in the basement. And while they haven’t exactly rocketed to the top of the standings in the last week-and-a-half, I don’t think anyone expected that with their prized rookie on the sidelines that they’d currently be icing a better team than they were during the first few weeks of the season.
It seems somewhat counter-intuitive, maybe even absurd, but the Oilers might actually be a better team since the injury. I mean, they obviously aren’t a better team without McDavid, but they are better now than they were before Draisaitl got called up.
Draisaitl didn’t replace McDavid in the lineup. He was recalled Oct. 29 and played his first game against Montreal, two games before McDavid would go down against the Flyers. However, by exploding into the NHL and playing as good, if not better than McDavid was before his injury, Draisaitl has offset the loss of the game’s most hyped player in a way even his own mother couldn’t have predicted.
Losing McDavid is disappointing, but if you believed in the Oilers before he got injured, then you should still believe now, because with the additions of Jordan Eberle and Draisaitl, the team is better today than they were on Oct. 27 when they blew a third period lead to the Wild without either player in their lineup. McDavid is good, but he isn’t as good as Draisaitl and Eberle combined.
Here’s a quick recap of Draisaitl’s year so far:
- In his first game of the year, Draisaitl scored two goals, played 21 minutes and was an even Corsi player at even-strength.
- He followed that up with a game against the Flames where he was a 63 percent player at 5v5, and put up a goal and two assists overall.
- He had two assists against the Flyers in the game when McDavid got injured.
- He was held off the scoresheet against the Penguins and the Flyers, but returned last night to put up three points for the Oilers’ first victory since the McDavid injury (although with just a bit of luck they could have won all three games).
So far this year, in six games, Draisaitl has six even-strength points and a Corsi-for of 53.6% while averaging almost 17 minutes per game. Including the power play, he has four goals and 10 points in six games, skating almost 20 minutes per game.
To put that in perspective: Patrick Kane leads the NHL with 13 5v5 points in 15 games, a pace that Draisaitl is currently out-performing. He is also third in the NHL in 5v5 points per 60 minutes, but if you adjust that to include power-play time, he’s scoring more points per minute than any player in hockey.
What is even more impressive than his individual performance has been how the team has responded since he’s been in the lineup. Over six games, the Oilers are 3-3, but that is deceiving. In his first game, the Oilers came from behind to beat the Canadiens. Next, only a cheesy behind-the-net goal in the final minutes prevented them from at least getting points against Calgary. They then beat Philly in a game that showed a huge amount of grit in winning after McDavid went down, then they hit a ridiculous number of goal posts against the Penguins, dominated the Blackhawks to the point where they finished the game with a PDO of 91, despite losing, and then showed great spirit in coming from behind last night to beat the Ducks.
Six games with Draisaitl, and the Oilers could legitimately be 6-0. With 10 points in six games, Draisaitl has been absolutely dominant. If you take his six-game performance and compare it to McDavid’s best six games, Draisaitl has been better. He’s been so good that even if McDavid were not injured, Draisaitl would still probably be the best performing rookie in the NHL.
The Oilers will miss McDavid, but with Eberle and Draisiatl now on the team, they are better than they were before his injury and there is no reason to think that they won’t be holding down a playoff spot when he returns (and that isn’t taking into account how good Darnell Nurse has played). The Pacific Division is wide open this year and the Oilers have as good a shot at winning it as anyone else.
You might be thinking that it’s just six games,and that there is no way he can maintain this pace. I agree, it is very unlikely that any player will score one even-strength point per game, as Draisaitl has so far averaged. However, even once he stops playing like a Hart Trophy winner, he won’t fall too far because a line of Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall is virtually impossible to defend against and any decline off Draisaitl’s so far amazing totals should only be slight.
All stats waronice.com
Note: an early version of this story mistakenly called Draisaitl a rookie, however he played 37 games last season and the cut-off for rookie eligibility is 25 games.
Thanks for reading.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.