Oilers’ Draisaitl thinks split with McDavid makes team ‘more dangerous’

NHL scoring leader Leon Draisaitl spoke to Tim and Sid about the play of linemates Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto, blocking out Hart Trophy noise, and the Edmonton Oilers fight for a playoff spot.

The Edmonton Oilers have two Hart Trophy candidates on their team. Amazingly, they used to play on the same line.

Leon Draisaitl (110 points) and Connor McDavid (95 points), the two leading scorers in the NHL, have found plenty of success in their young careers playing side-by-side. But this season, the talented forwards are showing they might be more valuable to the Oilers when they’re split up.

“I think it makes our team a lot more dangerous, a lot harder to defend,” Draisaitl said Friday in a phone interview on Tim and Sid. “A lot of times, when Connor and I would play together and we didn’t have a good night, you shut both of us down at the same time. Now, it’s a different look.”

On Dec. 27, Edmonton lost to the Calgary Flames, 5-1. That’s when Oilers coach Dave Tippett made a change, moved Draisaitl from McDavid’s line into the centre spot on line No. 2.

The Oilers were 20-17-4 at the time, an 88-point pace. They’re 16-7-4 since, which is a 109-point pace, and are two points off the Pacific Division lead amid a tight Western Conference playoff race.

“I’d be lying if (I said) we weren’t all thinking about it,” Draisaitl said of the playoff race. “But you can’t think too far ahead.”

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If Edmonton does make a successful push to the post-season, a lot of credit will be due to Draisaitl’s ability to thrive away from McDavid, one of the league’s premium playmakers who is closing in on his fourth consecutive season of 100-plus points.

Draisaitl now plays with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto on his wings. In 24 games together, the trio has amassed an impressive 77.14 goals-for percentage and a 56.32 expected goals-for percentage, according to Natural Stat Trick (for context, Draisaitl and McDavid only have a 48.57 goals-for percentage and 47.13 expected goals-for percentage together this season).

On a team level, things are going well for Edmonton. Individually, Draisaitl has made a compelling case to earn MVP honours — but he says he’s not thinking about it too much.

“I try to block that out as much as I can,” Draisaitl said. “I think for us especially here in Edmonton, we’re all kind of sick of losing and the main reason we’re all playing right now is to make the playoffs and make a push.

“Obviously whatever I can do to help the team win hockey games, that’s all that matters right now to all of us.”

Draisaitl’s impressive showing on the second line, away from McDavid, is helping the Oilers win hockey games. And it may be enough to help them reach the playoffs for just the second time since 2006.

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