The Athletic Is Wrong to Snub Draisaitl in Favor of Matthews

Leon Draisaitl has once again been overlooked as a great player. This could be for a number of reasons, but one could be he is overshadowed by the best player in the world in Connor McDavid. In terms of comparisons in today’s NHL, Draisaitl is similar to Auston Matthews, except has arguably had a more impressive career to this point. The Athletic put away the stats in a piece called “NHL99: A project ranking the greatest players in modern NHL history” and ranked Matthews far higher than Draisaitl, who didn’t even crack the top 100 (from “NHL99: A project ranking the greatest players in modern NHL history”, The Athletic, Jan. 19, 2023).

Number Don’t Lie When Comparing Draisaitl & Matthews

Draisaitl was drafted two years prior than Matthews, but he spent half of his post-draft year in the American Hockey League (AHL). That’s fine, as players develop at different rates. But at age 27 and 25, I’d argue that it is a good age to compare both players and to judge where they will finish all-time.

Related: Oilers Heading in Right Direction in Year 8 of Connor McDavid

Matthews had the hotter start to his career, but where it stands over the past five years, Draisaitl has the upper hand. Whether you think Draisaitl or Matthews is the better player, the difference in rank is absurd considering how close the numbers in their careers really are.

  • Draisaitl has three 100-point seasons while Matthews has one.
  • Draisaitl has two 50-goal seasons while Matthews has one.
  • Draisaitl has an Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award while Matthews has a Calder Trophy, Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and two Rocket Richard Trophies.
  • Draisaitl has a 1.14 career points-per-game rate while Matthews has a 1.12.
Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When it comes to playoff success, team or individual, Draisaitl has Matthews by a mile. Matthews regularly disappears when playoff time comes while Draisaitl has had two incredible performances. His most recent was on one leg.

  • Draisaitl has a career playoff points-per-game rate of 1.59 while Matthews has 0.84.
  • Draisaitl and the Oilers have won three playoff series since he’s arrived while Matthews and the Maple Leafs have won zero. The Oilers have qualified for the playoffs just four times in that span while the Maple Leafs have had six opportunities to win.
  • Drasiaitl and Matthews have played almost the exact same number of playoff games, so it is an easy comparison. Draisaitl has scored 18 goals and 59 points in 37 playoff games while Matthews has scored 17 goals and 33 points in 39 playoff games.

Let’s take a look at this season in particular. Nothing has changed in terms of Matthews playing on the top line with high-level talent. His line struggled to a point where the personnel had to be switched around. He may have won back-to-back Rocket Richard Trophies, but he sits tied in 17th this season with 22 goals in 43 games. Draisaitl on the other hand is tied for ninth in goals with 26, since he’s taking a backseat to McDavid who leads the league with 38.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Draisaitl’s production hasn’t slowed down at all considering he’s already at 70 points in 44 games and is on pace for a career-high 127 points. Matthews is scoring well below his career goals-per-game rate of 0.63 and has regressed a fair amount offensively compared to his previous seasons. He is scoring at 0.51 goals per game and is on pace for 40 goals and 91 points. Draisaitl is on pace for 47, but both have proven they can go on incredible stretches of scoring goals.

What Were They Thinking?

Draisaitl hasn’t played on the top line with McDavid as much as he normally does. He has found a lot of success on his own line this season. The power play is a big factor as to how Draisaitl racks up a ton of points. But a lot of that can also be credited to him for that. He constantly practices shooting one-timers from ridiculous angles to make it very tough for the opposing goalies to save. Plus when he’s not in his spot, he’s roaming in front of the net for a tip or tap-in.

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Draisaitl is widely regarded as the best passer in the game, forehand and backhand, even more so than McDavid. Though Matthews’ shooting ability may be the best in the league (excluding the slapshot), his passing ability is nowhere near that of Draisaitl. Matthews’ defensive abilities tend to shine through more often, but Draisaitl is overlooked in his own end and on the penalty kill.

Of course, this debate between Draisaitl and Matthews won’t be settled for a long time, if ever, considering each player has some numbers and awards advantages. But I believe each deserves to be in the top-100 of The Athletic’s rankings. Taking into account that the voting for this list took place before the 2022 Playoffs according to the article, Draisaitl still accomplished a great deal to that point and there was a recency bias involved. It has become a trend to overlook a player of Draisaitl’s calibre to this extent when he remains as consistent as anyone in the NHL has ever been.