With a hat trick and five points in Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks, Leon Draisaitl added his name to some exclusive Edmonton Oilers clubs.
He became the first Oilers player to post multiple four-point games in the playoffs since 1988, when Wayne Gretzky and three others achieved it. At 21 years old, he was the second-youngest Oiler to tally a hat trick in the playoffs. The youngest? That would be Wayne Gretzky.
When Draisaitl was asked about putting his name next to The Great One’s after Game 6, he shut it down.
“I really don’t want to put myself in that category. I really … don’t,” said Draisaitl after Game 6.
(In fairness, he earned the moniker “The German Gretzky” back home before joining the Oilers. Which probably has more to do with a lack of other candidates for that nickname than anything else. Hell, Sandis Ozolinsh is probably “The Latvian Orr” because who else are you giving it to? Same deal.)
Being a dynamic, young player for the Edmonton Oilers means you skate head-on into these inevitable comparisons and the weight of the franchise’s glorious history. One doesn’t have to search that hard to find a ‘McDavid-as-Gretzky, Draisaitl-as-his-Messier’ take like this one from the Edmonton Sun:
For sure, it’s all Connor all the time for Oilers Nation, but in some ways, Draisaitl is Mark Messier to McDavid’s Wayne Gretzky. We’re not saying Draisaitl is anywhere near the same rambunctious player as Messier, but teams learned they had to pay attention to Messier’s offence almost as much as to No. 99’s in their 1980s Oilers glory days.
Premature hyperbole aside, the postseason Draisaitl is having is one of the most promising developments for a team that’s banked more than its share during this run to Game 7 of the second round. His 16 points in 12 playoff games are the numbers we might have expected from McDavid, who has a more than respectable nine points in 12 games during his first postseason.
McDavid was the primary reason the Oilers are in the playoffs, with a regular season performance that should earn him the Hart Trophy. But just because the credit goes to one man doesn’t mean it’s a one-man show: There was great coaching, there was great goaltending, and there was Draisaitl.
He played 670 minutes at even strength with McDavid, and had 10 goals and 15 assists. He played 500 minutes away from McDavid, and had three goals and 12 points, but his Corsi-For per 60 minutes was down significantly (61.90 to 52.25).
They clicked together, but coach Todd McLellan tried his best to pry them apart for a more balanced attack. “In the regular season, they’d play apart for two weeks, and then go back, and then get split up again,” he said on Monday.
He split the duo up in Game 5 against the Ducks, and it paid massive dividends in Game 6, as Draisaitl was paired with Milan Lucic and Anton Slepyshev and they dominated.
McDavid and Draisaitl are not Gretzky and Messier. At least not yet. But McLellan would settle for being able to use them like other superstars he’s coached in the past.
“It reminds me of what we used to do in Detroit with Datsyuk and Zetterberg,” said McLellan, who was an assistant coach to Mike Babcock with the Red Wings before becoming the Sharks’ head coach in 2008. “Or in San Jose at times with Pavelski and Thornton, or Marleau and Couture. Those types of players.”
In other words: Star players who don’t take it personal when their lines are shifted, and that can be reunited at any time to give the team a boost.
“You have the luxury of doing that based on what the team needs. Not the individual, but the team,” McLellan said. “For a 20 and a 21 year old to understand that speaks volumes about their leadership.”
It also helps when one of them decides to have the game of his young life to avoid elimination and to push the Ducks right where they didn’t want to be: In a Game 7, with everything to lose, against a young and hungry opponent whose window to win will remain open until further notice, thanks in no small part to McDavid and Draisaitl.
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