The last time we checked in on Leon Draisaitl a few weeks ago, he was getting lots of points on the powerplay but really struggling to produce at even-strength. His rate of points per hour was well below his career levels, and he was posting some of the worst on-ice numbers on the team with the Oilers getting badly outshot when he would be on the ice.
- Related: What’s going on with Leon? – November 22, 2022
Likely recognizing Draisaitl’s issues at even-strength and the negative impact it was having on the team’s overall results, the coaching staff made some adjustments to get the forward’s even-strength production back on track. The solution: give Draisaitl more ice time with Connor McDavid.
Over the last ten games, the coaching staff has deployed the two on a line together at even-strength more consistently and it’s done wonders for Draisaitl. In these ten games since November 26th, Draisaitl has posted nine points in 166 minutes of ice time – a points per hour rate of 3.25. That’s a significant improvement from the first 20 games of the season when he had nine points in 306 minutes – a points rate of 1.76 and well below his previous three year average of 2.68.
The table below breaks down Draisaitl’s individual and on-ice numbers in the first twenty games of the season where he spent about 20% of his ice time with McDavid, and the last 10 games where he’s been McDavid’s regular wing man, spending 98% of his ice time with the captain.
A big reason why Draisaitl has been so much more productive is the significant improvement in his on-ice shot-share numbers. Playing alongside McDavid, Draisaitl has seen his on-ice possession numbers (i.e., Corsi) and share of scoring chances (i.e., Fenwick) improve by about ten percentage points, going from around 43% all the way to 53% – levels you would expect from high-end talent. The team is spending far more time playing with the puck when Draisaitl has been on the ice in the last ten games, and the results have been much better as well. Prior to being McDavid’s regular winger, Draisaitl was posting an on-ice goal-share of 45% (a -3 goal differential). Since then, he’s posted a goal-share of 57%, a +3 goal differential in these ten games.
With Draisaitl needing to play with McDavid more often to remain productive, it does make the Oilers more vulnerable to getting outshot and outscored when the two aren’t on the ice. Instead of playing around 18 even-strength minutes per game without one of the two being deployed, the Oilers are now playing about 29 minutes per game without them. The Oilers play about 47 minutes per game at even-strength this season, meaning they won’t have one of their two star players on the ice for about 61.7% of their 5v5 time. Ideally, coaches are spreading out their offence and Draisaitl is a scoring threat on his own line, giving the coaching staff an advantage when it comes to even-strength matchups and overwhelming opponents. But if Draisaitl can’t put up even-strength points and becomes a defensive liability without McDavid, the Oilers coaching staff will need to figure out deployment and tactical strategies for the other three lines to ensure they’re not getting out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored without the two star forwards. This might also require some tweaks to the roster construction, something Oilers management has often struggled with.
Up until this point of the season (30 games in), the Oilers are posting a 49% Corsi for percentage and a 47% Expected goals for percentage when McDavid and Draisaitl haven’t been on the ice. These below-average shot-share numbers have lead to a 47% goal-share, or a -2 goal differential – a major issue for the team that has high playoff aspirations. And while the results without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice have been better over the last ten games, it doesn’t appear to be sustainable considering they continue to get out-chanced regularly without their star players.
So while it’s great to see Draisaitl produce at even-strength again, it does come at a significant cost – one that could impact the Oilers chances of being a legitimate contender.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.