The Edmonton Oilers have a Hart Trophy candidate. And his name isn’t Connor McDavid.
German forward Leon Draisaitl has turned in another phenomenal season for the Oilers and is establishing himself as one of the most dominant players in the NHL. The 24-year-old currently leads all NHL players in scoring with a whopping 110 points (43 goals) through 68 games.
Draisaitl’s insane season has led to him emerging as the front-runner for the 2020 Hart Trophy. From the minute the puck dropped on the 2019-20 campaign, the 6’2″ centreman has been nothing short of incredible. He opened the season with an eight-game point streak that saw him rack up seven goals and 16 points. He hasn’t gone more than consecutive games without a point all season and is currently on a four-game point streak in which he’s exploded for six goals and 11 points.
It’s one thing to pile up points in bunches, but it’s another to do it on a nightly basis. Draisaitl has been remarkably consistent and is dominating whenever he takes the ice. He leads the entire NHL with 33 multi-point games and also ranks second in the league with 10 multi-goal games.
Draisaitl has more than proven that he isn’t a by-product of McDavid’s elite talent. While Draisaitl has played almost 550 minutes of ice time with the young phenom this season, he’s also spent almost half of his total ice time (449:16) away from McDavid and driving his own line. In fact, when McDavid went down with injury back in February, Draisaitl put the team on his back with four goals and 12 points in six games without McDavid.
Analyzing the Competition
Just looking at the insane numbers Draisaitl has put up, one might think he’d be a lock for the 2020 Hart Trophy. Unfortunately, there are several other very strong candidates that will likely make Draisaitl’s chances of capturing the trophy come down to the wire. The official NHL definition of the Hart Trophy is the “player judged most valuable to his team”. Any NHL player who is playing on a team with Connor McDavid is going to have to make a very convincing case that they are truly the most valuable player to their team.
Draisaitl may very well be the best player on the Oilers this season, but there are other players in the Hart Trophy conversation who may have stronger arguments for being the most valuable player to their team. The current Hart Trophy odds at the sports betting website Bovada have Draisaitl (-200) as the favorite, but Nathan Mackinnon (+260), David Pastrnak (+550), McDavid (+800) and Artemi Panarin (+800) aren’t far behind.
Every player in the Hart Trophy conversation is an incredible talent, but Nathan MacKinnon can be viewed as Draisaitl’s toughest competition. MacKinnon’s numbers (34G, 88 PTS, 66GP) aren’t quite on Draisaitl’s level, but he’s been that same level of dominant on a game-by-game basis.
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) March 5, 2020
Boston’s David Pastrnak is going to have a tough time ultimately capturing the trophy when you consider he’s playing on one of the best lines in hockey alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Pastrnak’s 47 goals have him on track for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but can you really make a convincing argument that he is the most valuable player to the Bruins? Bergeron is one of the best two-way players in hockey and goaltender Tuukaa Rask is establishing himself as the Vezina Trophy favorite thanks to an incredible season that has seen him post a 25-7-6 record with a .928 save percentage and 2.13 GAA.
Watch Out for Panarin
If there is one “longshot” candidate who is capable of stealing the trophy away from Draisaitl, it’s got to be Artemi Panarin. The Rangers have put themselves in the playoff picture thanks to an incredible stretch of play that has seen them go 9-4-0 since early-February. Artemi Panarin has played a massive role in that success.
Panarin currently ranks fourth in the NHL scoring race with 32 goals and 93 points in 66 games. What makes Panarin such an intriguing contender is that he leads the NHL with 69 even-strength points and leads all NHL forwards with a plus-35 rating. You also can’t discount the fact that he hasn’t been playing with some of the elite-level talent the others players have played with.
Artemi Panarin’s most common linemates this season have been Jesper Fast and Ryan Strome. Sure they’re good players, but they aren’t anywhere close to being on the levels of the Bergerons, Marchands, Rantanens and McDavid’s. Panarin hasn’t just been piling up points on the power play. He’s doing all his damage at even-strength playing with two fairly average NHL players.
Artemi Panarin is good at hockey. pic.twitter.com/fKqSlYXyf6
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 23, 2020
What might ultimately cost Panarin the trophy is just how good his teammate and power-play linemate Mika Zibanejad has been. Since the All-Star break, Zibanejad leads all NHL players with 20 goals in 19 games. Any MVP case for Panarin is being weakened by the dominance of Zibanejad, who recently put the team on his back with a five-goal game against Washington.
Draisaitl’s Defensive Woes
If you follow the advanced stats community, you’ll know that many writers are against Draisaitl for the Hart Trophy due to his lackluster defensive play. His minus-4 rating is the worst among the top-10 NHL scorers. You also have to dig into the advanced stats to get an idea of his defensive abilities.
He's one of the league's absolute best players, elite offensively and brilliant on the powerplay. But he truly sucks defensively, and a model isn't broken for acknowledging it. pic.twitter.com/yLXeqrVe97
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 3, 2020
There’s no denying that Draisaitl hasn’t been one of the top defensive forwards this season, but it’s also worth noting that he had a mediocre month of December (by his standards) in which he recorded only 14 points and a minus-24 rating in 14 games. In the other 53 games, he has 93 points and a plus-18 rating. Draisaitl also averages almost a minute of ice time per game on the penalty kill, which has helped the Oilers post the second-best penalty-kill percentage in the entire league (84.5%).
What it comes down to is that Draisitil isn’t valuable to the Oilers because of his defense. The German superstar has been the most productive offensive player in the NHL this season and any defensive deficiencies are far outweighed by the superior offensive capabilities he brings to the table.
Given his 15-point lead in the scoring race and dominance on a nightly basis, the Hart Trophy is shaping up to be Draisaitl’s to lose. Not only does Draisaitl lead the NHL in scoring, but he leads all forwards in ice time (22:37) and leads the NHL with a clutch 10 game-winning goals. He’s been an absolute workhorse and played a huge role in helping Edmonton become one of the top team in the Pacific Division.
Panarin will be an intriguing contender if New York manages to make the playoffs, and MacKinnon may be the most explosive player in the NHL, but as long as Draisaitl keeps up this torrid pace, it’s going to be very hard to deny him of the NHL’s MVP award.