An underrated blessing of the NHL returning to its standard 82-game season is that finally, for the first time since 2018–19, the counting stats will look normal. For the first time in years, somebody could actually top 50 goals. More than one person will likely push themselves above 100 points. Most thrillingly, it’s going to be a wide open race for the Art Ross (most points) and the Rocket Richard (most goals) trophies. Particularly with regard to the Richard, which has always been a more exciting accolade to me even if it’s not the more prestigious, the journey is already shaping up to be a horse race between old man Alex Ovechkin, who’s won it nine times already, and the field, which is headlined by a pair of young Edmonton Oilers superstars.
One of those two Oilers—the slightly less famous one—continued his early-season charge up the leaderboard in his team’s 5-2 win over the Kraken on Monday, which improved Edmonton’s record to 7-1-0 on the year. German powerhouse Leon Draisaitl, who just turned 26 a few days ago, picked up his third multi-goal game of the year in just the first period against Seattle, bringing his goal total up to seven and tying him with a bunch of others for second place behind Ovi’s nine. With a couple of assists later on, Draisaitl tied his own captain Connor McDavid for the NHL’s lead in points with 17.
Draisaitl’s first was like a goal straight out of the Bundesliga. After following the puck into the corner, Leon drifted into a somewhat threatening location to the goalie’s left as his teammate Tyson Barrie took possession up high. Barrie fired a pass (or shot?) towards Draisaitl and then watched as the forward brilliantly and legally deflected the puck off his skate and angled it into the net.
Draisaitl’s second in a very eventful first few minutes of action came as a finisher in Edmonton’s terrifyingly destructive, 46-percent effective power play, which has given him three of his goals so far this year. This one was just a big tidal wave roaring unstoppably through the Seattle PK. A long pass from the defensive zone started the momentum, and then some lightning-quick tic-tac-toe from the Edmonton forwards unlocked Draisaitl with an open space at point-blank range.
This is what Draisaitl has been doing since his 50-goal breakout year in 2018–19: He converts on his chances with the extra man, and he puts himself in the right place at the right time. There are a few different reasons why he’s less famous than Connor McDavid, among them his European roots, the early perception that he was benefiting immensely from sharing the ice with McDavid, and the fact that with a slightly lower top speed it’s harder for him to create breathtaking highlights out of thin air. But year after year Draisaitl has proven and then re-proven, with his pinpoint accuracy and his faceoff superiority and his merciless finishing and his intelligent skating and his tough defensive play, that it’s a toss-up on any given night who the most dangerous Oiler will be.
In the first few games of the year that title went to McDavid, who breathed fire from the first drop of the puck and scored six in his first four games. But as Connor has slowed down just a bit, tallying only one assist in each of the last two, Draisaitl has picked up the slack with his own scoring, getting the game-winner in Vancouver and those four points against the Kraken. And through it all Edmonton hasn’t stopped winning, because it’s pretty easy to rack up points on your division rivals when you have maybe the two best scorers in hockey.
But as much fun as it will be to watch Edmonton fight to finish first in the Western Conference, it will be equally enjoyable to see Draisaitl and McDavid competing with each other, unleashed from the limited schedules and putting up offensive numbers like they’re pinball scores. In the points category, they already look like they could be in a class all their own, with the big exciting question being whether or not one of them can stretch themselves and get all the way to 150. But the goals race is more fascinating and far too soon to call, because it’s filled with intriguing questions. Will Ovechkin be able to keep up anything resembling his opening-month pace? Which of the somewhat surprising guys on the early leaderboard—like Andrei Svechnikov or Chris Kreider—will stick around through the winter? And what of Winnipeg’s young standout Kyle Connor—is this the season he makes the jump into elite company?
The answers to these, in order, are “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” and “I don’t know.” But here are two clear truths: The Oilers frickin’ rock, and Leon Draisaitl is a pretty cool player.