Edmonton Oilers

Leon Draisaitl’s building his case to become one of the best NHL playoff performers of all-time

Each year when the playoffs begin, we are reminded of just how different the action becomes from the regular season style of play we have grown accustomed to. There is a visible change of intensity, a palpable change in atmosphere, a certain nervous intensity that fills the very hearts and minds of fans and players alike. 

Each and every inch of ice becomes more contested, each play more difficult to make, each challenger farther to reach. This reality makes the game, and the judgment thereof, steeper, more binary. There is a win and a loss, not much else. 

Everything is more difficult in the playoffs, making the rare commodity of playoff excellence the signifier of a truly elite stratosphere. It is this context that gives gravity to the fact that there is no one currently in the NHL that has a playoff resume quite like the Edmonton Oilers’ own Leon Draisaitl.

Draisaitl’s impact goes unmatched

During his day job as a top-scoring forward, Draisaitl occupies an interesting space in the collective psyche of NHL fans. Having won the Hart Trophy in 2020 as the league’s MVP, Draisaitl is in rarefied air already. Seemingly, finishing second in league scoring nearly every year has done little to earn Draisaitl much recognition as someone who might be the best player in the league after teammate Connor McDavid.

While the regular season stats are impressive, they fall short of explaining Draisaitl’s greatness. One of the league’s most accurate shooters, Draisaitl is always near the league lead in goals, scoring from audacious angles that most players would not dare attempt.

As one of the league’s best passers, Draisaitl has a distinct style, often firing cross ice passes from his backhand with tremendous velocity. Strong and powerful enough to outmuscle opponents, Draisaitl does it all with a strange stylistic contrast to his MVP teammate McDavid.

Where McDavid exudes ferocious speed in everything he does, Draisaitl operates in relative slow motion, bamboozling opponents with patience, slow, methodical sleight of hand. Despite how they both play at a level higher than most of the league, it is entirely possible to tell the difference between McDavid and Draisaitl based on their movement alone. 

Draisaitl more than belongs in this stratosphere, thought of amongst the best in the league. With other powerful centres, Draisaitl is mentioned in the same breath—that with Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, etc.—but Draisaitl has something that sets him apart from his cohorts here, even from McDavid himself: a level of playoff excellence, another gear. 

Playoff dominance from Draisaitl 

As much as Draisaitl punches in as a top player in the regular season, the moonlighting he does in the playoffs is a step beyond. Take a look at this chart showing the top players all time by playoff points per game with a minimum of 50 points.

NamePosGPGAPG/GPA/GPPlayoff P/GPRegular P/GPPPG Difference
Wayne GretzkyF2081222603820.5871.251.8371.921-0.084
Leon DraisaitlF392143640.5381.1031.6411.1660.475
Mario LemieuxF10776961720.710.8971.6071.883-0.276
Barry PedersonF342230520.6470.8821.5290.9330.596
Connor McDavidF392135560.5380.8971.4361.494-0.058
Nathan MacKinnonF714153940.5770.7461.3241.0710.253
Mark MessierF2361091862950.4620.7881.251.0750.175
Bobby OrrD742666920.3510.8921.2431.393-0.15
Mike BossyF12985751600.6590.5811.241.497-0.257
Mikko RantanenF642454780.3750.8441.2191.0470.172
Jari KurriF2001061272330.530.6351.1651.1180.047
Nikita KucherovF137531041570.3870.7591.1461.1320.014
Gilbert PerreaultF9033701030.3670.7781.1441.1130.031
Peter ForsbergF151641071710.4240.7091.1321.25-0.118
Peter StastnyF9333721050.3550.7741.1291.268-0.139
Sidney CrosbyF180711302010.3940.7221.1171.262-0.145
Bernie FederkoF9135661010.3850.7251.111.13-0.02
Pavel BureF643535700.5470.5471.0941.11-0.016
Joe SakicF172841041880.4880.6051.0931.191-0.098
Jean BeliveauF16279971760.4880.5991.0861.0840.002
Bobby HullF11962671290.5210.5631.0841.101-0.017
Eric LindrosF532433570.4530.6231.0751.138-0.063
Cale MakarD561545600.2680.8041.0711.0340.037
Toe BlakeF582537620.4310.6381.0690.9170.152
Ken LinsemanF11343771200.3810.6811.0620.9380.124
Phil EspositoF13061761370.4690.5851.0541.24-0.186
Guy LafleurF12858761340.4530.5941.0471.202-0.155
David PastrnakF723144750.4310.6111.0421.0420
Brayden PointF774040800.5190.5191.0390.9280.111
Denis SavardF169661091750.3910.6451.0361.119-0.083
Doug GilmourF182601281880.330.7031.0330.9590.074
Kevin StevensF10346601060.4470.5831.0290.8310.198
Theoren FleuryF773445790.4420.5841.0261.0040.022
Dale HawerchukF973069990.3090.7111.0211.186-0.165
Brian LeetchD952869970.2950.7261.0210.8530.168
Gordie HoweF15768921600.4330.5861.0191.047-0.028
Evgeni MalkinF177671131800.3790.6381.0171.156-0.139
Craig SimpsonF673632680.5370.4781.0150.7840.231
Paul CoffeyD194591371960.3040.7061.011.087-0.077
Jake GuentzelF583424580.5860.41410.9140.086
Steve ShuttF995048980.5050.4850.990.8780.112
Steve PayneF713535700.4930.4930.9860.760.226
Darryl SittlerF762945740.3820.5920.9741.023-0.049
Patrick KaneF13752811330.380.5910.9711.048-0.077
Gabriel LandeskogF692740670.3910.580.9710.7740.197
Stan MikitaF15559911500.3810.5870.9681.051-0.083
Jaromír JágrF208781232010.3750.5910.9661.108-0.142
Bernie NichollsF11842721140.3560.610.9661.073-0.107
Sergei FedorovF183521241760.2840.6780.9620.9450.017
Ryan GetzlafF12537831200.2960.6640.960.8810.079

While there is more to on-ice contributions than scoring, evidenced clearly by first round opponent Philip Danault, Draisaitl being ranked second outright, sandwiched between Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, is absurd in its own right. Perhaps even more impressive is the rate at which Draisaitl’s point production increases in the playoffs, jumping by over half a point per game, the highest of all the players on this list.

While the sample size is relatively small, with Oilers fans hopeful that McDavid and Draisaitl will add many more playoff games to their resumes, Draisaitl has enough playoff games under his belt for us to take these numbers seriously. Perhaps Draisaitl’s numbers here will wane over time, with more playoff appearances in his later years, but his results so far are beyond question.

Progress towards the final goal

All that is missing is the watershed moment of a Stanley Cup win—the ultimate goal of course—but Draisaitl has done a meaningful amount of work towards building a resume worthy of being called the best clutch performer in NHL history.

While the Oilers find themselves in a tight checking battle against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of this season’s playoffs, it is Draisaitl once again who is leading the offensive charge. The work is just beginning, but while it has been McDavid pushing the likes of Gretzky in the regular season, it is Draisaitl doing so in the playoffs.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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