Leon Draisaitl is true heart of Oilers

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The conversation surrounding the Edmonton Oilers for the past five seasons has always encompassed Connor McDavid.

As of this current time in the 2019-20 NHL season, that’s not the case.

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The best hockey player in the world isn’t even the best player on his own team. That’s almost unfathomable given the fact McDavid is six points from a fourth consecutive 100-point season; despite missing six games with a quadriceps injury and somehow not missing time at the beginning of the season with the PCL tear sustained last April.

For the first time since McDavid entered the NHL, the spotlight is not on him as the Oilers close in on their first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four seasons. That honor goes to teammate Leon Draisaitl.

I have spent the majority of this season believing that the Hart Trophy race begins and ends with the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak. Such a case could still be made for that proclamation. As of Tuesday, Pastrnak is still the best player (91 points) on the best team in the NHL (The Bruins’ 94 points is tops in the league).

And while it’s a crime to hand out regular season awards before playoff games are played (hello, Nikita Kucherov), we’re coming to the point where it needs to be accepted that Draisaitl is the best player in the NHL this season.

Draisaitl’s 107 points as of Tuesday are tops in the NHL by 13 — ahead of his superstar teammate in Edmonton. By the time this column runs, Draisaitl could have another three points when the Oilers face the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

It could happen as quick as Draisaitl’s hat trick on Monday in Nashville, in what was one of the more bizarre games this season. In a potential first-round matchup, the Predators and Oilers were tied 3-3 heading into the third period. 

Edmonton scored five goals in a span of 5:13; three of them came from Draisaitl, adding to the one he scored in the first period for a four-goal game, and more importantly, an 8-3 win for Edmonton against a surging Nashville squad.

The world saw a glimpse last season of what Draisaitl could become. He posted a career-high 105 points after back-to-back seasons of at least 70 points. He became McDavid’s 1-B, but due to lack of depth and talent surrounding the two, the Oilers finished seventh in the Pacific Division.

This year, McDavid and Draisaitl have help. James Neal and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have provided the secondary scoring punch with 19 goals apiece; Zack Kassian, while no longer skating with McDavid or Draisaitl, has 31 points in 54 games. There’s also been the emergence of 21-year-old forward Kailer Yamamoto with 23 points in 22 games.

Add on the additions of Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, and the Oilers can proclaim they have depth for the first time in years.

That, along with goaltending, has been the Achilles heel for Edmonton while trying to utilize the most out of its superstar. Now, McDavid doesn’t even have a Robin — he has a fellow Batman in Draisaitl.

The Oilers could go to the playoffs with McDavid not having to carry the weight of the city of Edmonton on his shoulders. That’s a blessing for an organization that was in shambles a year ago.

Wednesday

Flyers at Capitals: The Capitals are losing ground in the Metro, but it’s not because of the Penguins. The Flyers have stormed through to win six straight and be a real threat to Washington. Despite the Caps’ struggles, it wouldn’t shock to see them as favorites for this one. If Carter Hart continues this pace (8-1-0 in past nine starts), this would be a good time to see what Philly is made of with some ‘dog money. FLYERS PUCK LINE

Thursday

Islanders at Senators: This could be a prisoner-of-the-moment pick, but the Senators have played motivated hockey since Bobby Ryan returned. Ottawa has a quick turn-around at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, but it’s the first game for Jean-Gabriel Pageau against his former team. It might not be as electric as Patrick Marleau in San Jose, but the Sens should play inspired. SENATORS 

Saturday

Canadiens at Panthers: The Panthers are in free-fall mode. They’re five points out of a wild-card spot and haven’t responded in kind since trading Vincent Trocheck to Carolina. It wouldn’t shock to see Florida as slight favorites, but given Florida’s goaltending conundrum right now and how off it is, expect Montreal to jump on the Cats early. CANADIENS PUCK LINE

Last week: 1-2

Season: 32-31 

About the Author

Danny Webster

Danny Webster is an NHL columnist at Gaming Today. He is a graduate of UNLV whose work also appears on NHL.com, Vegas Hockey Now, and SB Nation.

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