Guess who? Edmonton Oilers center returns to MVP form

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He is tied for first in the National Hockey League for points.

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He is fourth in official plus-minus goals at +9 in eight games.

He’s a two-way, even-handed force like no other on his team right now. He leads the game in both the d-zone and the face-off circle, where he has a winning percentage of 56%.

Yes, Leon Draisaitl is back, playing at the same high level at center as he did in the second half of the 2019-20 season, when his spectacular two-way play at the top of the DYNamite line, with Ryan Nugent -Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto on his wings, propelled him to win the NHL Hart Memorial Trophy.

Another sign of Drai’s re-emergence as an early favorite for the Hart Trophy this season is his plus-minus on even-matched Class A shots.

When he won the Hart in 2019, he was +1.6 Class A shots per match evenly matched (15 minutes of playing time). It is still +1.6 this year.

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He slipped to +1.0 last season, a very good number for a center, but not at MVP level. He also slipped to eighth in the Hart vote last year, a season where his line, Yamamoto and Dominik Kahun never really took off as a two-way juggernaut, at least by 2019-2020 DYNamite line standards.

Draisaitl was OK on defense last year and his MVP season, but his even-matched offensive performances declined significantly last year, dropping from major contributions to 2.8 A-grade shots in his MVP season to 2.2. per game last year.

This year he has increased his offense a bit from last year to 2.3 major contributions to Category A shots per game, but he is really suppressed in Zone D. This is the big difference. He’s reduced his major mistakes on Class A shots from 1.1 per game last season to just 0.7 per game this year, a large number for a center facing stiff competition.

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It appears that having him center his own line – instead of playing musical chairs in the center of the D zone on a line with McDavid – could bring focus and clarity to Draisaitl’s mission and increase his defensive effectiveness.

There’s no question who the main man on defense is now working in the defensive lunge and corners, and helping the defensive men move the puck forward. It’s him. This is the Grand Drai. And he kicks there like a true NHL MVP.

As for McDavid, he had unreal Category A plus-minus +1.9 shots last year in his own runaway MVP season. This year, he’s yet to be as effective in evenly attacking – at least by his own mind-boggling standards – but his only real struggles have been in defense. He’s had a series of slips in his own zone, but as he demonstrated last season, he’s more than capable of coming out of this defensive crisis and bringing his own unparalleled level of offensive excellence and defensive play. solid.

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In other words, if you’re wondering how the Oilers can improve evenly this year, wait until McDavid really ramps up his “A” defensive play each night to match what he’s already bringing on offense.

If he and Draisaitl can both put their best two-way play together at the same time, the Oilers’ strength game will shift into high gear, as will the debate over who should win the MVP award in 2021-22.

Right now it’s a stalemate, but my own nod at the start of this 2021-22 season would go to Draisaitl.

To worship

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