The news has been confirmed for Edmonton Oilers fans that Connor McDavid will be out of the lineup for the next two to three weeks as he nurses a quad injury that he suffered this past Saturday in a victory over the Nashville Predators. No, this is not the news anyone around the team wanted to hear, but this places the spotlight on Leon Draisaitl who currently holds the top spot in the National Hockey League with 89 points (32 goals, 57 assists).
Organizations would prefer to have their best player healthy for the whole season but that is a tough ask with the physicality involved in the NHL schedule. Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby has gone down with various injuries over the years, and the offensive load has been passed directly to his partner, Evgeni Malkin. In the instances in which Crosby has been absent from the lineup, Malkin has stepped up and answered the bell for the Penguins. In 121 career games without Crosby, Malkin has 66 goals and 95 assists, good for 161 points. With Draisaitl in a similar situation, will he be able to create his own version of Malkin production?
The Playoff Push Starts Now
With McDavid out of the lineup, the focus shifts to Draisaitl to produce and keep the Oilers in the playoff hunt. Entering his fifth year with the team, the German has cemented his status as an elite player coming off a 105-point campaign, including his first 50-goal season with the team during 2018-19. This is the first time that Draisaitl will be on his own to drive the offence during a crucial stretch of 10 to 12 games with McDavid rehabbing his quad injury. If anyone questioned whether #29 would crumble, the first game versus the Chicago Blackhawks included four points (one goal, three assists) in a 5-3 victory for the Oilers.
Draisaitl has developed into a tough player to defend with the ability to set up teammates and score goals in a variety of ways, either off the rush or with pinpoint accuracy from the circle on the power play. All of his offensive skills will be put to the test on a nightly basis facing the top defencemen over the next month. The focus will be laid on him specifically without the distraction of McDavid on the ice, which will be a tall order for the NHL point leader. These are times where players tend to falter with the extra attention but elite talent relish this opportunity to prove themselves. The Oilers are hoping for the latter from their emerging superstar.
Oilers Most Important Piece
To this point in the season, Draisaitl has been dominating teams and a key reason the Edmonton Oilers sit in first on the power play at 29.9%, while contributing 37 points — which includes 11 goals — on the man advantage.
The next 10 to 12 game stretch includes both a three- and six-game road trip for the Oilers. This stretch consists of four Eastern Conference teams and eight Western Conference opponents, which are all in a dog fight to make the playoffs in the last 26 games of the season. These teams include defencemen such as Victor Hedman, Ryan Suter, Drew Doughty and Roman Josi, just to name a few. This will shrink the space for Draisaitl to create offence but is a chance to prove to the Oilers management and his teammates that he is up to the challenge.
This next month without McDavid will either be the demise of the Oilers for this season or proof they deserve to be in the playoffs come mid-April. Currently, they stand one point back of the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Pacific Division with one game in hand having played 56 games. If the Oilers can manage to keep the playoff push alive, this upcoming stretch will be monumental towards bringing playoff hockey back to Edmonton for the second time in four years and Draisaitl will be a major reason why.