The NHL Network released its top-20 wings list last month, and Leon Draisaitl’s position was lower than many Edmonton Oilers fans expected. Despite finishing second in the league in goals (50), fourth in points (105) and tied for third in multi-point games (32) in 2018-19, Draisaitl landed just outside the top-five. Really, there’s nothing more he could have done individually to move up the list.
Draisaitl, who scored his 50th goal in a 3-1 Oilers win over the rival Calgary Flames on Apr. 6, ended the season one marker shy of earning a share of the Maurice Richard Trophy as top goal scorer with Alex Ovechkin. The Cologne, Germany native became the first Oiler to score 50 goals in a single season since Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri in 1986-87. Additionally, he was the first NHL player to put up 50 goals and 100 points in a single season since Evgeni Malkin in 2011-12.
Draisaitl Has Become an Offensive Force
Since 2016-17, Draisaitl ranks seventh in the league in total points (252). He’s also one of only six players to score 70 or more points in each of the last three seasons. Sure, Draisaitl benefits from playing with two-time scoring champion Connor McDavid. However, he’s a superstar in his own right.
Five years into NHL career, Draisaitl has established himself as one of the best dual offensive threats in the game. Not only did he score 50 goals last season, but Draisaitl also won the premier passer event at the 2019 NHL All-Star Skills in a time of 1:09:08 (beating runner-up Sebastian Aho by more than nine seconds).
Draisaitl ranked sixth in offensive zone pass completions (1,532) and third in slot pass completions (233) among all NHL forwards in 2018-19. He keeps opposing goaltenders on their toes whenever he touches the puck in their end of the rink, because he’s just as likely to fire a shot past them as he is to set up a teammate for a high-quality scoring chance.
Still, many Oilers observers believe that a player earning $8.5 million per season should be driving his own line instead of riding shotgun with the greatest player in the world. I think Draisaitl will eventually become the Oilers permanent second-line centre, but until GM Ken Holland can acquire more talent on the wings, they simply can’t afford to separate the league’s deadliest duo.
Top of the Class
When the Oilers selected Draisaitl third-overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, they knew they were getting an excellent young talent. But I’m not sure anyone in the organization realized how good he would become.
“We all know how difficult big centres are to obtain, and you have to draft big centres to get them because they are very hard to come by,” said then-general manager Craig MacTavish at the 2014 NHL Draft. “Leon really fits that build for us. We play in a very difficult conference and division. There will be a lineup of wingers ready to play with him when he gets to Edmonton.”
Drafting Draisaitl was easily MacTavish’s best move as Oilers GM. Draisaitl has not only managed to live up to his draft day expectations, he’s exceeded them. “The Deutschland Dangler” displays an uncanny blend of high-end vision, puck skills, size and strength.
The 23-year-old ranks second in career goals (125), first in career assists (187), first in career points (312) and second in career games played (351) among 2014 draftees. More impressive, Draisaitl is the only player out of 2,121 drafted prospects in the 2010s with a 50-goal season on his resume.
It’s no secret that Draisaitl’s shooting percentage skyrocketed in 2018-19. He found the back of the net 50 times in 231 shots, which gave him a league-leading 21.7 shooting percentage (minimum 100 shots). Draisaitl is a career 16.0 percent shooter, so it will be difficult for him to reach the 50-goal mark again in 2019-20, but he should be a consistent 30-goal scorer for the next five seasons or longer.
Where Should He Be Ranked?
Nikita Kucherov is undoubtedly the best winger in the NHL. His 128 points last season were the most by any player since 1995-96. For me, it was a toss-up between Patrick Kane and Ovechkin for the second spot, but I would have ranked Draisaitl fourth ahead of Brad Marchand and Mitch Marner. Marchand and Marner each had fantastic individual seasons in 2018-19, and played on strong teams in big markets, which surely elevates their status around the league.
However, Draisaitl had more goals and points than Marchand and Marner last season. Draisaitl’s critics insist that McDavid is responsible for much of his success. But Marchand plays with David Pastrnak (the only 2014 draftee with more career goals than Draisaitl) and Marner plays with John Tavares, who scored a career-high 47 goals last season. Every winger on this list plays with another star player, so it shouldn’t be a deciding factor.
Ultimately, for Draisaitl to be viewed as a top-three player at his position, the Oilers need to become a consistent playoff team. His offensive numbers are outstanding, but with only one playoff appearance (albeit a dominant one) in his first five seasons, his accomplishments continue to be somewhat ignored.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.