The Edmonton Oilers have missed the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons since they faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. This stretch put the franchise in position to draft two of the best players in the league – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The NHL history books are littered with one star player playing on a roster with a lesser, but still very good player. In each case, the “lesser” player would be a star player himself if he was not playing on the team was at the same time.
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From Jaromir Jagr playing with Mario Lemuix all the way back to Ted Lindsay playing with Gordie Howe, the star player has always needed a second star player in order to be successful and win Stanley Cups. The latest iteration of this is Draisaitl playing with McDavid. While they both have had individual success with the Oilers, the two have not been able to bring the franchise back to the glory days, during which Wayne Gretzky was playing with the likes of Jari Kurri and Mark Messier.
Draisaitl was drafted by the Oilers third overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft out of Cologne, Germany. He’s one of the most talented young players in the NHL at only 24 years old. So, why is he not more well-known league-wide?
It can be argued that Draisaitl is being overshadowed by McDavid. Draisaitl has totaled more than 50 points in five of the first six seasons of his young career. He only played in 37 games in his first season in the NHL at the age of 19.
This is similar to what happened when Gretzky and Messier both played for the Oilers in the 1980s. Gretzky was known as the best player in the NHL at the time, and Messier was the second-best player on a team that was loaded with talent. The difference between the teams that Gretzky and McDavid played for is the fact that the Oilers of the 1980s won five Stanley Cups, and the present-day Oilers have yet to win one.
Comparing Draisaitl and McDavid to Other NHL Duos
Comparing Draisaitl to McDavid is not fair given just how talented McDavid is. McDavid was drafted the year after Draisaitl in 2015 out of Richmond Hill, Ontario and aside from his injury-shortened rookie season in 2015-16, he has totaled less than 100 points in only the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. There are many different hockey leagues playing in many different countries. McDavid is not only the best player in the NHL right now but also the best hockey player on the planet. From skating to shooting, as well as pure speed, McDavid is on an elite level when it comes to all of these skills.
Draisaitl has not had a lack of talent in linemates throughout his career, though. In the past, he has moved to a line with McDavid and had great statistical success. In a piece written last year by Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, Draisaitl said, “It’s the time and space you have to give him, to get him the puck in full flight. I think that’s maybe what some guys struggle with. The window for getting him the puck, because he’s so fast, is probably a lot smaller than every other guy in the league. On the other hand, that makes him very dangerous. If you get him the puck in that spot, there’s a very good chance he’ll create something out of it.”
The two had played more than 1,550 minutes together in the past two seasons at the time the article by Wyshynski had come out. The duo had combined to take more than half of the shots for the Oilers, generated more than 60 percent of the scoring chances, and scored more than 65 percent of the goals. You would not be looked at twice if you were to call the duo of McDavid and Draisaitl the most talented duo currently in the league.
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One other modern example of the superstar player and his overshadowed “counterpart” is in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby was the best player in the league for 10 years prior to McDavid being drafted. Evgeni Malkin plays with Crosby and if not for the Cole Harbour native, the Russian would be the best player currently on the Penguins.
This is similar to when the Penguins had Lemieux and Jagr both at the peak of their powers. The two are on the list of greatest players in franchise history. McDavid and Draisaitl are certainly on the same trajectory in their position in the Oilers franchise.
What Happens if Draisaitl, Oilers Don’t Win Soon?
Draisaitl is under contract until after the 2024-25 season, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent. If the Oilers do not improve their roster enough to have playoff success, they risk losing him to another team and wasting not only his career, but also the career of McDavid.