When you play on a line with Connor McDavid, two things are going to happen. You’re going to score a lot, and you’re not going to get proper credit. Leon Draisaitl had a “quiet” 77 points in just his second season, but it’s taken an explosion in Edmonton’s series against the Ducks—away from McDavid for the last two games—for him to be widely recognized for what he is: One of the best young forwards in the game.
Draisaitl, the German-born third overall draft pick in 2014, leads the Oilers with 16 points in the postseason, and that’s after not doing much in the first round. But Draisaitl owns the Ducks. After his hat trick in yesterday’s 7-1 home blowout of Anaheim in Game 6, he has 13 points in this series and 21 points in 10 career games against the Ducks. “Sometimes it’s just a team that you like playing against,” Draisatl said.
Here are Draisatl’s three goals, and a goodly number of hats:
Draisaitl was shifted off McDavid’s line for his two-way play, ironically enough. The Oilers hadn’t been able to do a thing about big Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf, who had been running ragged Edmonton’s smaller, quicker centers. So for Game 5, Draisaitl, who had been McDavid’a right wing on a line with Patrick Maroon, was moved down to center a line with Anton Slepyshev and Milan Lucic. The thought was that Draisaitl—listed at 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds—could hang with Getzlaf. Getzlaf didn’t record a point in Game 6, while Draisaitl had five.
The 21-year-old Draisaitl’s hat trick was the Oilers’ first in the playoffs since Doug Weight and Bill Guerin did it in 2000, and his teammates are anxious that he gets the recognition he deserves.
“He’s been a horse,” said Zack Kassian. “Everyone knows how good he is in here. Sometimes he doesn’t get enough credit because he plays with (Connor McDavid). But we all know what he’s capable of.”
That the Oilers could score seven on a night when McDavid didn’t have a point is a very good thing. They’re offensively top-heavy, which can be a matter of strategy rather than a flaw—look to the Predators for another team with a top line light years beyond their depth forwards, and it’s obviously worked for them, though their defense and goaltending is much better than Edmonton’s—but the deep playoff runs tend to belong to the teams who can roll three or four legitimate threats. The calculus to separate McDavid and Draisaitl strengthens a second line at the expense of the first, and sometimes that’s what’s needed.
“It just shows we were willing to do whatever it took to extend the series. With Leon stepping up and everyone following behind him it was a good team effort that we needed,” said Milan Lucic.
“It’s been a team all season long. It’s been different guys stepping up at different times. You can’t take anything away from what [McDavid] has done. I mean, a 100 point season. Our captain. Our leader. He’s driven the bus all season long.
“At different times you need different guys to step up, especially at this time of year. You can’t just rely on one guy to do it. You need the whole team to get it going.”
All of this will come down to a Game 7 on Wednesday, and it’s the Ducks with the experience—though not experience they’d like to repeat. Their last four seasons have ended with Anaheim dropping a Game 6 with a chance to clinch and then losing Game 7 at home.
The argument in the Ducks’ locker room is that the past is past. “I wasn’t here, so don’t pin any of the Game 7s on me,” said coach Randy Carlyle, before getting a little testy with a reporter.
The Oilers’ last Game 7? A loss in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. It feels so long ago.