Whether an opposing player or a media insider that suggested Leon Draisaitl couldn’t run his own line, Draisaitl has seven words for you: “10 points in four games without McDavid.”
At this moment, Draisaitl leads the NHL in scoring with 95 points in 59 games. He’s got 13 more points than the next closest player to him (David Pastrnak) and he’s 14 points up on Connor McDavid — the man so many have said Draisaitl needs to be effective.
To say the least, Draisaitl is cementing himself as one of the NHL’s biggest stars, he’s proving to be a consistent top-five player and he’s silencing doubters. He’s even getting people to talk about him in the same sentence as a couple of little pieces of hardware called the Art Ross and Hart Trophies.
Draisaitl’s Past Seasons
Should we really be surprised Draisaitl is coming on like he is? This is now his fourth-straight season of 70 points or more; his second season where he’ll likely reach 105 points. He’s one of the best passers in the game and he proved that long before this season. In 2018-19, he added that he can score and with a 50-goal campaign, he became a double threat.
In short, you can’t argue he isn’t already a star and if you try, there’s some bias going on there.
Sure, he’s played a lot with McDavid and he’ll be the first to admit he’d prefer to play with arguably the best player in the world. Who wouldn’t? He’s also gotten a ton of power play time, but it’s not because he doesn’t deserve it. He’s good at it. That shouldn’t be a negative.
Draisaitl has earned his praise, but behind the best player in the world, it’s not surprising he hasn’t received it.
Things Changed This Season, Especially With McDavid’s Injury
While getting a lot of time with McDavid, new head coach Dave Tippett decided to switch things up and go McDavid one, Draisaitl two. It didn’t just work, it worked extremely well.
Draisaitl found great chemistry with Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and they became what might be the best line in hockey. Nugent-Hopkins’ numbers shot through the roof and Yamamoto proved he was a real NHL’er with 9 goals and 18 points in 18 games since being called up from Bakersfield. Both Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto are excellent players, but Draisaitl is largely responsible for their success.
Meanwhile, McDavid and a cast of supporting characters kept chugging along until the unfortunate happened.
When McDavid went down, people feared the worst. Even if the captain was only set to miss a couple of weeks, ‘How would the Oilers survive?’ ‘Draisaitl’s good, but he’s not that good’, people said. “Ah, his points are inflated because of McDavid’, others noted. In a tight playoff race in the Pacific Division, there were more than a few doubters, many likely from Edmonton who feared the worst.
Draisaitl Took it Upon Himself, Became a Hart Candidate
“We’re showing the hockey world we are not just a one man team. Of course our team is still better with Connor on it. That’s not a secret,” Draisaitl said to Sportsnet’s Gene Principe.
Leon knew he was going to have to be better than he already was. Noting how difficult a task that might be, he knew it was up to him to prove everyone the Oilers could win, more specifically, that they wouldn’t tank. “According to a lot of people out there, I can’t play on my own; I can only play with Connor,” Draisaitl said after the win over Carolina, according to The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman. Boy, were they wrong.
In the face of all those questions, Draisaitl came out the first night with a four-point effort. From there, he just kept adding up the points. Now with 10 in four games since McDavid went down, few still doubt him. Even as NHL players chirp him in an attempt to take him off his game, his reactions against Carolina and Nashville say it all. Leon isn’t just good, but he on the verge of elite.
And, in Edmonton, fans are just hoping people keep talking down about what might now be the favorite to win the NHL’s biggest individual prize. The more they talk, the better Draisaitl seems to play. As former Edmonton Journal writer Robin Brownlee phrased it on Twitter, “Name three players more worthy of Hart Trophy consideration than Leon Draisaitl right now. I’ll wait.”
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Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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