EDMONTON — Connor McDavid casts a large shadow in Edmonton, one from which Leon Draisaitl permanently emerged on Monday as hockey’s newest best player, claiming both the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award.
That it came in a season where Draisaitl was moved on to his own line and away from McDavid at even strength is apropos, as the 24-year-old German -- known locally as the Deutschland Dangler -- became the only NHL player to score 100 points in the 2019-20 season, notching a career-high 110 in just 71 games.
He was Edmonton’s best player -- period -- and as such, was named the league’s best player by both the members of the NHL Players Association (Ted Lindsay) and the voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (Hart).
“I know the comments, what a lot of people think,” said Draisaitl on the topic of playing in McDavid’s shadow. “My opinion was always different, but everyone has their own opinion. I found some chemistry with [Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins], we clicked at the end and had a good run. The coaching staff, the trust they put in me, getting me out there over and over. I probably didn’t deserve it at times.”
When the two Oilers centreman teamed up on the powerplay, Edmonton led the league with a 29.4 per cent success rate -- the second highest in NHL history. It is truly like Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin West, without the playoff success as of yet.
“Connor and I have a very healthy, competitive relationship,” Draisaitl said. “We just try to make each other better every day.”
A season ago Draisaitl was the NHL’s only 50-goal, 100-point player. This season, while no one else made it to 100 points he had 110, leading the league with 67 assists.
After coaching against Draisaitl and the Oilers for many years, first-year Oilers head coach Dave Tippett saw a whole new player when he watched Draisaitl every day from behind the Edmonton bench.
“There was a lot of motivation, especially from Connor and Leon,” Tippett began. “With the change of Ken [Holland, Oilers general manager] and myself they really wanted to get things going the right way. Playing Leon and Connor together early on, the two of them really took the team on their backs and said, ‘Look, we’re going to be better this year.’ The rest of the team followed.”
With McDavid out for six games from Feb. 11-21, Draisaitl led the Oilers with six goals and 12 points.
“What impressed me most about Leon was how much of an impact Leon had when the game was on the line,” Tippett said. “When we needed a goal at a certain time. Or your powerplay needed to score to really seal a game. Or in overtime… He had the impact on the outcomes of games, which really put him the position to win an award like this.”
McDavid was 20 when he won his only Hart Trophy. Sidney Crosby won his first Hart at age 19. Alex Ovechkin, 22.
Draisaitl joins Dirk Nowitzki, who won a National Basketball Association MVP Award in 2006-07, as the only German athletes to be named the top players in a North American sports league. Coincidentally, Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies — who grew up in Edmonton — may well become the first Canadian-raised player to be named MVP of the Bundesliga one day.
“I am very honoured,” Draisaitl said. “Hopefully this will somehow give some little [German] kids some more joy in starting hockey instead of other sports.”
Draisaitl had 43 goals in the 71 games played by Edmonton before the season was paused. That pro-rates to 49.66 goals, had he played in the final 11 games.
The Oilers flamed out in the playoffs however, losing in four games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Qualifying Round, despite six points in four games by Draisaitl.
On the night that the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars were contesting Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, rather than doing a Zoom call at 1:15 Germany time, he’d have preferred to be suiting up for a hockey game at Rogers Place.
“No, this doesn’t make up for it,” he said of Edmonton’s unexpected, early exit. “It’s a nice personal award for myself, but there’s nothing that comes ahead of the Stanley Cup. If I could hand those two awards back in for a Stanley Cup I would do it in a heartbeat, and so would everyone else.
“It’s a nice day, I am proud and happy for sure. But my goal in my career is to win the Stanley Cup.”