By Allan Mitchell
Nov 4, 2019
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
When Leon Draisaitl scored 50 goals for the Edmonton Oilers in 2018-19, he delivered an exceptional shooting percentage (21.6) and took full advantage of playing alongside an impact linemate (Connor McDavid) for more than 60 percent of his total minutes. Math suggests that Draisaitl’s pre-2018 shooting percentage (13.7), gathered over 3.5 seasons in the NHL, would force a reckoning this season. Even if the regression brought the scoring percentage back half the way, to say 17.5 percent, reasonable expectations would have Draisaitl at 40 goals in 2019-20 if he delivered the same shot total (231) year over year.
The season is just 15 games old, and Draisaitl appears to be outrunning regression without increasing his heart rate. He has 13 goals in 15 games, 52 shots and is skating around with a 25 percent success rate so far in 2019-20.
Shooting percentage outliers
Since the turn of the century, and before this season, shooting percentages above 20 have been rare. Mike Ribeiro scored 27 goals on 107 shots in 2007-08 (25.2), and that remains the highest percentage since 2000-01. The last player before 2019-20 to approach it was William Karlsson in 2017-18 (23.37). This year, there is an early shooting percentage explosion. Here are the 10 leaders in the category as of Nov. 3 (via Hockey-Reference):
Schenn is dangerously close to Charlie Simmer’s record, now almost 40 years old. There are 10 players who are at 25 percent or more so far this season, suggesting we are seeing something unusual in the league in 2019-20. Regression will take care of much of the issue, but there does appear to be a change in the weather offensively.
Let’s go back to the start and check the scoring rate per game across the league. In 2018-19, total goals per game (both teams) was 5.96, while shooting percentage was 9.5 and save percentage .905 overall. This season, the total goals per game is 6.06, with a 9.6 shooting percentage and a .904 save percentage. The difference is enough to raise expectations, but not a lot. In 2018-19, the average NHL team posted 244 goals. Using the current rate and extrapolating it over 82 games in 2019-20, that total for an average team would climb to 248, not exactly earth shattering.
Despite the insane number of players at or above Draisaitl’s current shooting percentage, the league appears to be in the same range offensively as one year ago. No spike in offence, no NHL version of a juiced ball for this season.
Another item we can look at is how Draisaitl is being deployed. As a for instance, maybe he is getting more shots on goal via the power play. It’s a stretch considering he was a feature player one year ago, but let’s break it down.
This is exactly opposite of what I was expecting to see. Draisaitl’s even strength numbers are driving this train, not the power-play results. I think it’s reasonable to expect both of these totals to regress, and it’s reasonable to expect a spike in power-play goals for No. 29.
What was expected?
Back in the late summer, I estimated Draisaitl’s scoring during the “reasonable expectations” series and projected 38 goals. Part of that projection included seeing him play away from Connor McDavid. So far this year, the duo has been inseparable (via Natural Stat Trick):
It’s unlikely, but I wanted to see whether Dave Tippett had a magic wand that allowed him to get Leon out against softer competition. Perhaps the clean air of bottom-six forward opposition is a key? No.
We know Draisaitl plays tough minutes at five-on-five, that’s expected when playing alongside McDavid. He played 35.3 percent of his five-on-five time against elites in 2018-19 according to Puck IQ. That number has increased to 41.5 percent this season.
I saved this for last because it’s the easiest answer of all. Draisaitl isn’t lobbing shots in from centre to pad his stats, he delivers rockets from areas close to the net. He’s a dangerous sniper, and the shot totals are increasing. A year ago, he averaged 2.82 shots per game over 82 games (total 231). So far this season, he is averaging 3.47 shots per game. If that continues, he’ll land around 284 shots. Using last season’s shot percentage, he would project to 61 goals. A reminder: Extrapolating numbers over an entire season with a small sample is pure folly. He is on track to increase shot volume and scoring efficiency, but there are limits.
Can Draisaitl score more than 50 goals?
It’s possible for Draisaitl to pass 50 goals in 2019-20, and scoring 13 goals in the first 15 games improves the odds. Draisaitl needs 37 goals in the final 67 games of the year and he’ll need to avoid long slumps and injuries. He will benefit from playing more with McDavid (should it continue) and increased shot volume and shooting percentage, should those trends continue.
Draisaitl’s start to the season puts him on a path for a career season, which is impressive because it follows a career season that saw him score 50 goals. It’s unfair to say sky’s the limit, but good health, sustained shot volume and success, and extended time with McDavid is a perfect fit for a career season.