Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl was on pace to achieve incredible highs to start the season with 23 points in his first 10 games. He came back down to earth, tallying 13 points during the Oilers’ 15-game slide from Dec. 3 to Jan. 20 where they went 2-11-2. The team as a whole was in a slump as Draisaitl publicly displayed his frustration in a feisty exchange with a reporter and was a minus-9 in that span.
Fast-forward to Feb. 10, the Oilers fired Dave Tippett, and in came a new voice in Jay Woodcroft. In 10 games playing for the new coach the team has a 7-3 record, and a large part of that is due to the play of Draisaitl. He has 11 points in that span, but his attention to detail in his defensive game has improved and he’s becoming an all-around complete player.
What is Draisaitl Doing Better Defensively?
In Draisaitl’s last 10 games under Woodcroft, the centerman hasn’t been on the ice for a 5-on-5 goal against, while being on the ice for 10 goals-for. What also stands out is the quality of teams the Oilers have played within that period. They’ve played good teams, including the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and powerhouses in the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes.
The big German isn’t known for his shot-blocking ability, but he’s increased that part of his game with Woodcroft behind the bench. He has eight blocked shots in his last 10 games, in contrast, he only had one blocked shot in his previous 10 under Tippett. It all started in Woodcroft’s debut against the New York Islanders. It was noticeable that Draisaitl was putting his body in shooting lanes and visibly diving for loose pucks. He’s also seen an increase in ice time on the penalty kill under his new coach. He was previously averaging 0.45 minutes per game playing short-handed but is now averaging 1:35 minutes per game.
Draisaitl Had a Good All-Around Game Against the Flyers
In the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers last Tuesday, Draisaitl was the lone forward that was sent out to kill the 5-on-3 penalty. Mikko Koskinen made a big save and the centerman picked up the loose puck and skated it up ice, killing 48 seconds off the clock. When it was 5-on-4, he cleared the puck out of the zone using his backhand. In total, he was on the ice for over a minute short-handed and was tremendous in preventing the Flyers from scoring. He scored a power-play goal of his own later in the period.
He had other notable plays during the game. The Flyers were circling with the puck in the Oilers’ zone and Draisaitl stood flat-footed near the hash marks. A cross-ice pass was made and he anticipated it and knocked the puck down with his big paddle. He then picked it up and transitioned the other way, resulting in two scoring chances for the Oilers.
In the third period, he was assigned to take the draw 6-on-5 with the Flyers’ goalie pulled. He lost the faceoff, but provided good defensive coverage— the Oilers were able to exit the zone and he ended up getting an assist on Connor McDavid’s empty-net goal for a 3-0 win in Philadelphia. He finished the night with a goal and an assist and was the second star of the game.
Draisaitl’s Defensive Abilities Catching up to His Offensive Game
Woodcroft spoke about Draisaitl’s play against the Flyers, saying, “Leon came up with some big plays for us tonight and he was a big factor in our win, so I’m happy for him that we got the win in this building (that he was drafted in).” In his last stretch of games, it’s apparent the effort he’s put into backchecking. In my view, the last time he played with such passion in every area of the game was during the 2019-20 season when he won the Hart Trophy. Because he’s a leader on the Oilers, his extra defensive effort will have a positive impact on everyone in the locker room. If arguably one of the best players in the world is putting in the work defensively, the second, third and fourth-line players should be doing it as well.
Moving forward, he could be a player that sacrifices personal points in order to be dependable defensively. Earlier in his career, there were comparisons to him and two-time Stanley Cup winner Anze Kopitar. The Los Angeles Kings’ captain has always been known as a big body who can put up points but also play a good defensive game. At 26 years old, Draisaitl may only be scratching the surface of being a complete player.
At the same time, Draisaitl is still an offensive force. With his goal against the Flyers last Tuesday, he tied Auston Matthews that night for the league lead in goals, while also being second in the NHL in points. Also, a fun fact, with his goal last game, it’s the third straight season he and McDavid have reached 75 points within the Oilers’ first 54 games. The only other teammate combo to have done that was Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri (1983-1987).
Draisaitl finished 13th in Selke Trophy voting last season, a trophy awarded to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. If he continues his attention to detail to the defensive side of the game, could he have a shot at winning it this season?
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.