It’s easy to forget, now that he has a Hart Trophy and a scoring title on his resume, but there was a time when many considered Leon Draisaitl’s current eight-year, $68-million pact with the Edmonton Oilers an overpay.
And strictly based on his regular-season resume when he signed that deal on Aug. 16, 2017, those people may have had a point. After struggling to get his offense going and ultimately returning to the WHL in his rookie season, Draisaitl bounded forward offensively in his second and third seasons in the league. But there were questions about whether Draisaitl could be a difference-maker on his own; much of his success in 2015-16 came with Taylor Hall, and much of it in 2016-17 came with Connor McDavid.
The playoffs, however, were a different beast for the big German pivot. Whereas Connor McDavid carried the water for the Oilers in the regular-season – to the tune of a Hart Trophy and a scoring title – it was Draisaitl who was the dominant force during the playoffs. The big, sometimes nasty center thrived during the Oilers playoff run, scoring six goals and 16 points in 13 games. He was the Oilers’ best player in that post-season, particularly ramping up after escaping supplemental discipline for a Game 4 spear on the Sharks’ Chris Tierney in Round 1 that year.
His regular-season resume to that point would’ve made Draisaitl a very rich man either way. There’s no question about that. But showing he could be ‘the guy’ when the going got tough proved Draisaitl’s value to the Oilers and added dollars to his contract ask. General managers are people, too, and they’re still susceptible to being wowed by big-stage performances.
The following is a list of three players in similar situations to where Draisaitl was in summer 2017. They are players coming off entry-level contracts, playing for playoff teams, who are already respected contributors but could put themselves over the top with a good showing in the big dance.
Andrei Svechnikov – Carolina Hurricanes
It’s a little crazy how much Svechnikov’s situation now mirrors what Draisaitl’s looked like in 2016-17.
Both Svechnikov and Draisaitl hail from Europe but crossed the Atlantic two years before their respective drafts to adjust to the North American game. Svechnikov initially went to USHL Muskegon while Draisaitl headed straight to WHL Prince Albert. But as a draft-eligible, Svechnikov, like Draisaitl, played major junior. Svechnikov put up 72 points in 44 games for OHL Barrie in his draft year, good for 1.63 points per game. Draisaitl? He went for 105 in 64 as a draft-eligible. That’s 1.64 per game.
Carolina took Svechnikov second overall in 2018, while Edmonton made Draisaitl the third choice in 2014. Both drafts featured defensemen picked first overall – something that’s only happened one additional time this millennium.
The Russian is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. The German runs 6-foot-2, 208. Both are franchise pillars, but both are often given second billing behind a smaller, slippery center from the 2015 draft. Not unfairly.
Each made his respective team out of training camp, though the Oilers would return Draisaitl to the CHL after 37 NHL games. In Draisaitl’s three ELC seasons, he scored 137 points in 191 games (0.72 PPG). Svechnikov wrapped 2020-21, his third pro season, with 140 points in 205 games (0.68 PPG).
So, can Svechnikov recreate Draisaitl’s dominant 2016-17 playoffs to similarly boost his value? He’s in a good position. Carolina seems primed for a deep run, a potentially deeper run than the 2016-17 Oilers. And Svechnikov is sure to be a key cog.
Svechnikov is coming off a great year, consistently contributing to high-danger chances throughout the season. The Russian right winger finished tied for 10th among NHL forwards in HDCF this year.
He’s started the playoffs alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and should therefore have every opportunity to thrive this spring. Like Draisaitl, Svechnikov has the size and strength to take games over in the tough, physical playoffs. His smaller, slighter center could be more susceptible to being limited by the clutching, grabbing and sometimes straight-up tackling some teams employ as their defensive ‘strategy’ in the playoffs. It happened with Draisaitl and McDavid; it could happen here, too. While Aho carries the water most of the time, the post-season this year could be Svechnikov’s time to shine.
And while Svechnikov is a winger and Draisaitl a center, the latter played a shade under 60 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes on McDavid’s wing in the 2016-17 playoffs, so the comparison isn’t totally crazy.
Svechnikov enters this post-season with playoff experience, something Draisaitl didn’t have in 2016-17. He’s been here before, has done well, and can build from those blocks. Want another funny stat? Svechnikov scored a hat trick in his 11th career post-season game. Draisaitl had one in his 12th.
Svechnikov’s certain to be a very rich Jerk in short order.
Kirill Kaprizov – Minnesota Wild
The State of Hockey has deserved an electrifying superstar for so long. It’s finally got one. Just their luck, he already needs a new contract. Though Kaprizov’s just getting started, he’s already at the end of the two-year ELC he signed on July 13, 2020 (he burned a year immediately despite not getting to play in last year’s bubble).
The good news for Minnesota is Kaprizov is a 10.2(c)-status player, meaning teams cannot offer-sheet him. That will depress his value slightly, but what will work against him more is just how few games he’s played in The Show.
Kaprizov will enter the 2021 off-season with by far the smallest NHL sample size of anybody on this list, though, of course, he played 293 games in the KHL before coming to Minnesota. Still, he can do himself a massive favor by showing his 51 points in 55 regular-season games this year were no fluke. The more games he plays, the better.
Kaprizov is in tough against a Vegas team that allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season. The Golden Knights have been equally stingy in the first two games of the playoffs and have kept ‘Kirill the Thrill’ off the score sheet thus far.
But this series also presents Kaprizov with a wonderful opportunity to prove his mettle against the best. It can serve as shorthand for his ability to sustain his rookie scoring pace. If the Wild are going to upset Vegas, it’ll be because Kaprizov was their best player. And a playoff series or two like that will go a long way toward removing any doubt of Kaprizov’s value.
Cale Makar – Colorado Avalanche
I almost left Cale Makar off this list. Not because I don’t think he’ll have a massive playoff. He’s going to be otherworldly as always. I simply already viewed his value as being silver-cloud high heading into this off-season, regardless of how he fares this spring.
But then I got to thinking, and even though Makar has seemingly already found the key to every door he’s come to, a little hardware never hurts.
And there isn’t a single player coming off an ELC this year who’s more likely to rake in the trophies than is Makar. Would it be crazy to say that, by this July, Cale Makar is a Stanley Cup champion? I think few would argue in the affirmative.
OK, so let’s go a bit further. Is it that wild to suggest Makar could be the Avs’ best player during that stretch? He might not be the first name you put money on, but he wouldn’t be far down the list, either.
If Makar and agent Brian Bartlett have a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe, in addition to his Calder, to take to GM Joe Sakic’s office when they begin negotiations this summer, the Avs will have to hand over a blank cheque.
HM: Kailer Yamamoto – Edmonton Oilers
Yamamoto hasn’t recreated the magic he found after being called up midway through last year. But he started the playoffs with former linemates Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, which could help. The feisty Yamamoto could recoup some value with a couple good series.