Lowetide: Why Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl is delivering on a new line

On Saturday night, Edmonton Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl faced Colorado Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon for over nine minutes at five-on-five. Edmonton outshot Colorado in those minutes (5-4) and did not score or surrender a goal.

That’s a major victory for any line, but that Draisaitl played much of that time without captain Connor McDavid is breaking news in Edmonton.

How good is Draisaitl’s new line?

Knoblauch’s deployment

Since the NHL trade deadline, Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch has been running four distinct lines in an effort to find a balanced roster.

On Saturday, with the Avalanche in town, fans got to see what the coach is thinking post-deadline. The results were fascinating.

Here are the isolated totals, by line, against MacKinnon at five-on-five:

Line Mins Exp Goal Pct
















All numbers five-on-five, via Natural Stat Trick

Draisaitl was on the ice for two five-on-five goals against Edmonton during the game, but in his nine minutes against Colorado’s best the big man delivered.

McDavid’s lines performed well enough in the game (the captain was 46 percent expected goals in six minutes versus MacKinnon) and the third line got caved badly in that situation.

The fourth line barely saw the ice against the top Colorado group, inconvenient but the right call by the coaching staff.

This one-game look gives us an idea about how Knoblauch might approach a series versus the Vegas Golden Knights or another team with two outstanding offensive lines.

Edmonton cannot get into another situation where (as happened last spring) one man can help ruin a playoff series like Jack Eichel did for Vegas.

Two tough minutes scoring lines, one of them without McDavid, is threading a needle with the current roster.

Versus elites

Puck IQ bins quality of competition and allows us to take a peek at what happens in the heart of the game. Here’s a look at the Oilers’ major minute munchers versus elites during 2023-24.

All numbers five-on-five

It’s easy to spot the players who face elite competition with McDavid (mostly Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman) because the others have goal shares well under 40 percent.

Two things that are central to the recent line shuffle by Knoblauch: First, Draisaitl’s DFF (Dangerous Fenwick, it’s like a smart Corsi or expected goals in that it gives extra value to close chances and dangerous shots) is outpacing his goal share, meaning luck is suppressing results.

Second, Ryan McLeod is emerging as a real difference-maker as a 200-foot player.

Having another responsible forward, another Nugent-Hopkins, is just what the doctor ordered for Knoblauch and the Oilers.

To put this into context, here are the same totals for each forward, this time with the “time with McDavid” excluded for each player.

All numbers five-on-five

McLeod shines in this look at five-on-five performance versus elites without McDavid. He and Nugent-Hopkins are the only two men to reach 50 percent versus the league’s best without the captain.

This piece of intel (the Oilers will have more information than Puck IQ provides, but the public site gives us proof of performance) could represent a watershed moment for the organization.

If McLeod can help the Draisaitl line move the needle against elites at five-on-five, that gives Knoblauch two lines (along with RNH-McDavid-Hyman) he can match up with the other team’s best.

That’s a big deal when facing strong teams like the Avalanche or the Golden Knights.

How’s it going?

We’ve seen the lines running for a few weeks now, and the results are striking. Here are the current lines and their numbers over the past 10 games (where applicable).

Line Mins Goal Share









100 (1-0)




All numbers five-on-five against all competition

This is a small sample but does tell us the coach has deployed each of the lines in a way they can have success.

The McDavid line has been playing together (on and off) for several years now. The trio has a 62 percent goal share (in 625 minutes) at five-on-five over the last three seasons.

The Draisaitl line is the revelation. In fact, over 127 minutes together this season, the line has a 75 percent (12-4) goal percentage this season.

The Adam Henrique line got fed against MacKinnon versus the Avs, and we could see a tweak there.

The fourth line looks good in a small sample if the coach can keep it away from elite competition. The Henrique unit did enjoy some success before the Colorado game, Knoblauch may stay the course. He could shuffle Evander Kane to the top line (moving Nuge down) or bring Corey Perry up from the fourth line to replace Connor Brown.

The key takeaway here is the new power trio that is the Draisaitl line.

Against elites this season, the big man with McLeod have played just 51 minutes but own a 58 percent DFF and have outscored opponents 6-3.

There’s no solution on this roster that is as close to this promising as a second outscoring line.


Bottom line

Draisaitl’s draft day scouting report raved about his size/skill combination, his passing and aggressive forecheck. There was also a suggestion of a “developing wrist shot” and worry about foot speed and conditioning.

The thing people sometimes miss about Draisaitl is that he worked on his weaknesses and improved on his strengths. He’s a smart player and did the work to become a complete player. He was also helped by playing with McDavid, but credit where due he is a much more substantial player than implied on draft day.

McLeod is developing a similar resume. His draft day scouting report acknowledged two-way ability, with Red Line Reports saying “smart at both ends and can be used in every situation.” The knock on him then, and to a certain extent now, involved offensive ability and being a perimeter player.

Foegele’s report in 2014 talked about being a strong man, a pure skater with a physical edge. His down arrows? Offence.

Draisaitl developed during junior and in the NHL, adding a power shot that has allowed him to score 50 goals in a season three times — no scouting report in 2014 mentioned it being a possibility.

Almost a decade after he and Foegele were drafted the two men have combined with McLeod to form what is becoming an effective unit.

McLeod’s emergence as the second Nugent-Hopkins (or Fernando Pisani 2.0) is a big development.

Knoblauch will have to pay attention to Draisaitl’s minutes away from the second line, something he mentioned on the weekend.

If this trio can push the river against elites, and play stars like Eichel and MacKinnon at 50 percent goal share five-on-five, it will have contributed enormously to a championship-level roster.

Draisaitl improved a great deal after he arrived in the NHL.

McLeod is doing it, too. It is a recent development with substantial implications.

(Photo: Perry Nelson / USA Today)

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