If you asked most NHL fans who the Calder Memorial prospects were right now I suspect that you would hear these names from those that know their hockey: Artemi Panarin, Max Domi, Dylan Larkin, Jack Eichel, Oscar Lindberg, Sam Bennett, and Sam Reinhart. Those that are optimistic about Edmonton‘s top talent returning from injury soon, and playing very well for the balance of the season, might whisper Connor McDavid’s name as well.
But one name you won’t hear is that of another Edmonton Oiler. Leon Draisaitl might be young enough to seem like a rookie, but he played in 37 games in 2014/15 making him ineligible for Calder consideration in 2015/16. Perhaps that ineligibility is part of the reason, among others, that he isn’t garnering much media attention outside of Edmonton at the moment.
But let’s go into a parallel universe for a few hundred words of online writing and let’s pretend that Draisaitl were eligible for the Calder. With that in mind, let’s compare him to Artemi Panarin, a forward for the Chicago Blackhawks, as a case study. The reason I select the ‘hawk for comparison, in case you wonder, is not arbitrary. Panarin is the player considered most likely to win the Calder this year when you go by Paddy Power’s betting odds.
Panarin: 11 goals and 23 assists so far this season in 39 games
Draisaitl: 9 goals and 22 assists so far this season in 29 games
Let’s break things down to averages.
Panarin: .282 goals per game and .589 assists per game
Draisaitl: .310 goals per game and .759 assists per game
Draisaitl, who is four years younger than Panarin to the week, appears to be a more impressive talent.
In fact, if you go age-for-age Panarin was a half-point per game guy when he was 20 years old in the Kontinental Hockey League, the league that NHLers usually only go to when they are washed up or on strike. Draisaitl, a couple of months after turning 20, is now better than a point per at the NHL level.
Why isn’t Draisaitl getting his due? That he can’t be a part of the Calder debate is a big reason, I think. But a couple of other biases against him might be the team he plays for and his nationality.
Draisaitl plays for Edmonton, and every Edmontonian that follows NHL hockey will easily be able to tell you who he is. But the Oilers are a last-place team in the Pacific at the moment, and that doesn’t exactly make them a major source for Internet traffic for the North American hockey scene as a whole. When the Oilers are in the headlines, it seems the major topic of discussion is the McDavid injury. They were also noted for a recent winning streak, one that has since cooled down.
But, not so bling-bling Edmonton aside, Draisaitl is also German. I’m certainly not saying that there is a racial bias against him in the media. However, his nationality is still important from another point of view. You learn about the players in your own country a lot fast than ones from other countries. German hockey pundits, if they exist, do not have a major presence in establishing hockey news. I can’t name one German hockey authority and, on the spot and without cheating with Google, I could only name Jochen Hecht as a former German NHLer (I know that there are more).
But if Draisaitl was North American there would be a lot of hockey writers and analysts talking about him more. If he was Canadian specifically, he would have been a household name for fans of the World Juniors for years now.
Draisaitl is barely 20 years old and through a meaningful 31 games, he is better than a point per. A Canadian/American that age and that good playing in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington would be getting a lot more attention. But a German playing that good in Edmonton is only locally known for the most part.
Leon Draisaitl is only 20 years old, but he’s currently outclassing the Calder hopefuls – even ones that are older. He’s not a part of the Rookie of the Year discussion because he played in too many games last year. He’s not in NHL.com headlines, because he’s on a last-place team in the divisional races and, when it comes to hungry-for-traffic websites, he’s overshadowed by McDavid. That he’s German certainly hasn’t help put him on the fast track to hockey fame either.
But if McDavid comes back from injury in January playing at a point-per-game and if the other well-playing Oilers keep their foot on the pedal then Edmonton won’t be a last-placed team for long. In my view, the Oilers would only need to get slightly-above average goaltending to emerge as a Western Conference Finals candidate. McDavid would likely remain the headliner, but Draisaitl might start getting what he’s due.