“Don’t sleep on Leon,” Zach Hyman joked. “He’s pretty good, too.”
Hyman delivered the quip at the NHL Player Media Tour in September, answering my question on how excited he was to join the Edmonton Oilers and potentially play with Connor McDavid. The tongue-in-cheek comment was oddly prescient.
It’s not that Draisaitl qualifies as a forgotten star. He’s an Art Ross Trophy winner, a Hart Trophy winner, and he’s second among all players in goals and points over the past five seasons. But, still, with McDavid playing at a level not seen since Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s, there’s a case to be made that Draisaitl is…underappreciated? Or at least underhyped. How feverish would the hockey world’s temperature be if McDavid or Auston Matthews were the one tracking for 50 goals in 50 games?
Actually, ’50 in 50’ doesn’t even do Draisaitl justice. He’s currently on pace to get goal No. 50 in game No. 48. That would make him the third-fastest among the official members of the ’50 in 50’ club. Wayne Gretzky, a three-time member, did it in 39, 42 and 50 games. Lemieux did it in 46. Unofficially, Cam Neely got 50 goals in 44 games, broken up by injury in 1993-94, while Alexander Mogilny got 50 in 46 non-consecutive games during his 76-goal campaign in 1992-93.
So can Draisaitl become the first official 50-in-50 player since Brett Hull in 1991-92 and/or the first unofficial 50-in-50 player since Neely in ’94? Draisaitl is already 40 per cent there, so it’s a matter of forecasting how long it takes him to get his next 30 goals. Perhaps something in his underlying numbers can serve as a predictor.
We may as well start in the most obvious place to look when someone goes on a goal-scoring binge: shooting percentage. Draisaitl’s sits at a hilariously unsustainable 29.9 right now. For perspective: if it stayed that high, it would be the highest shooting percentage since Sergei Makarov in 1990-91 and the sixth-highest in NHL history. Factoring in the advancements and enlargements of goalies, we could unofficially call 29.9 the highest ever, relative to era, if Draisaitl did it over a full season. So, yeah, unsustainable as heck. That said, Draisaitl is an incredibly accurate shooter for his career. At 17.8 percent, he owns the highest career shooting percentage among the 469 active NHLers with at least 200 games played. For the sake of the 50-in-50 exercise, then, let’s project Draisaitl to convert shots at his career rate for the rest of the season.
How about his shot rate at all strengths? This season, it sits at an all-time high of 9.178 per 60. While his scoring-chance quality is in line with his career averages, his incredible volume gives him a career-best 1.37 expected goals per 60, per naturalstattrick.com. To keep our projection conservative, however, let’s assume he “slumps” to his career shot rate of 7.418 per 60 minutes at all strengths.
So we have Draisaitl shooting the puck 7.418 times per 60 and scoring on 17.8 percent of his shots. How much will he play the rest of the season? He averages 22:30 per game since Dave Tippett took over as Oilers coach for the 2019-20 season.
If Draisaitl shoots and scores at his career-norm rates (with numbers exact when calculated, not rounded for readability) and plays his when-coached-by-Tippett average ice time, we get a very-conservative estimate of 0.494 goals per game across the rest of the season – conservative because those numbers factor in his modest stats in his first couple seasons. Based on that goal rate, Draisaitl would score 31 times in his next 63 games and finish the season with 51. That feels like a floor projection, though.
What if we adjust the career averages to reflect 'Current Draisaitl,” the superstar version? If we discount this season due to the small sample size but use his three seasons prior, we get 7.876 shots per 60 at a 20.1-percent success rate. Apply the 22:30 ‘Tippett TOI' and it projects to 0.594 goals per game, good for another 37 over his next 63 games. So if we take ‘God Draisaitl’ of the 2021-22 season to date and combine him with ‘Superstar Draisaitl of the previous three seasons' for Edmonton's 63 remaining games, he gets his 50th goal at the 69-game mark.
Does this math offer anything remotely close to exact science? Obviously not. The point is merely to show what a cautious estimate would produce. If Draisaitl performs as “only” his superstar self from Game 21 onward, he’ll have a tough time scoring 50 in 50.
If we accept that he’s reached a new level of production that defies comparison to his previous seasons, we can dare to dream of him scoring 50 in 50.