Before we get too far into a debate about who is more valuable to the Edmonton Oilers, let’s preface this article with the following statement:
Connor McDavid is possibly the best player in the NHL, and the debate to argue anyone else is as important to their respective franchise, isn’t all that close.
With that said, the thought process behind the debate that follows is to see just how close Leon Draisaitl might actually be to Connor McDavid in terms of value, namely to this point in the 2019-20 NHL season. After all, it’s extremely valid to suggest Draisaitl was the better player in the month of October.
Just How Good is McDavid?
Understandably, there will be comments about this article before people actually read it. Even teasing the idea that McDavid isn’t the best player in hockey, nonetheless for the Edmonton Oilers, is like blasphemy to Oilers fans. So, let’s give early props to just how good McDavid is.
In 14 games this season, McDavid has 23 points. He’s on pace for 135 points, which would set a new personal record for the dynamic center. He’s had three consecutive seasons of 100-or-more points, last season’s 116 being his NHL career high. Despite going three games without a point during one stretch this season, he’s still tied for third in NHL scoring and at any moment, could pull away from the pack with a five-point game. That wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Furthermore, McDavid is the on-ice leader for the Oilers and he’s a game-changer in more ways than one. In at least one game this season, he’s decided to turn on the jets and has taken over a contest — that’s just something McDavid tends to do from time-to-time. His third period versus the Washington Capitals is just one example and it’s hard to argue anyone has played a better period of NHL hockey so far this season.
In short, McDavid has lived up to and exceeded expectations since he arrived in the NHL.
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The Argument For Draisaitl
Here’s the thing: Draisaitl is amazing. Expected to be good, the German-born forward has been so much more than expected.
Draisaitl currently leads the NHL in points with 25 and sits atop the standings with 12 goals in 14 games. His 50 goals last season was a pleasant surprise. This season, (he’s on pace for 70) if he doesn’t exceed the 50-goal mark, fans will be shocked.
Insiders, fans and other NHL’ers are starting to understand just how good he is. Not in the conversation as a top-ten NHL talent to start the season, he’s now firmly entrenched in many knowledgeable insider’s top-five, suggesting he’s leaps and bounds better than players like Auston Matthews. That’s high praise, to say the least.
What makes Draisaitl’s progression even more impressive, is that he’s playing minutes McDavid doesn’t often go near. This is not to suggest this is McDavid’s fault: head coach Dave Tippett has simply realized Draisaitl is effective no matter the situation. Whether the Oilers are short-handed, playing 4-on-4 or on the power play, Leon is getting ice time and being called upon in important situations.
For example, compared to McDavid’s 0:10 TOI per game shorthanded, Draisaitl is getting a firm 1:21 per game. And, as dangerous as McDavid is on the man advantage, Draisaitl gets only three seconds less time on the power play per game.
Draisaitl has taken 63 more faceoffs than McDavid and boasts a winning percentage of just three percent less and he owns a 10% higher shooting percentage than McDavid on seven more attempts through 14 games.
The Advanced Stats Argument
In terms of advanced analytics, McDavid does have the edge. His relative Corsi over 14 games is a positive where Draisaitl is below zero. Corsi-for scores lean toward McDavid, but not by much and everything else is fairly close. In short, it’s difficult to say one player has been leaps-and-bounds better than another in terms of advanced metrics.
An argument many will make — and it’s an argument that has merit — is that Draisaitl’s extremely strong numbers to start the season are a direct result of his playing with McDavid. After all, who wouldn’t be this dynamic with the most talented player in the world on your line?
And, some will talk salary when comparing these two players, Draisaitl having the edge here because he makes $4 million less per season on a long-term deal. Both players are considered great value but that’s a huge plus when arguing in favor of Draisaitl.
The Good News for Oilers Fans
The best part about the debate, is that both players are playing for the Oilers. If you cheer for the team, you’re lucky enough to be witnessing one of the most dynamic duos since Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri played together.
When you think about it, that Oilers fans get to be spoiled twice in one lifetime is, frankly, what makes being an Oilers fan so special. Is Draisaitl as good as Kurri was? Kurri had two seasons without Gretzky of 102 and 93 points. If Oilers fans are lucky, they may never be forced to answer that question.