ANAHEIM, Calif. — For Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, the happiest place in Orange County isn’t Disneyland.
No, it’s on the other end of Katella Avenue, where Draisaitl has scored in all four games against the Anaheim Ducks this season, including a goal and three assists in a Game 1 win on Wednesday night.
Draisaitl has scored in five of his seven career visits to Honda Center, amassing six goals and six assists. In his last 11 games against the Ducks regardless of location, Draisaitl has 17 points (9-8-17).
“I just think we’re allowing him too much freedom in the games we’ve played him,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “He’s having too much fun. I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”
But ask Draisaitl about his success against Anaheim, he nearly goes as silent as Donald Duck at the nearby theme park.
“I feel like people make too big of a deal of it,” Draisaitl said Thursday afternoon. “I think every guy has a team they seem to get points against or it really seems to go their way. Maybe this team is it for me, but this is a different story. This is the playoffs and it’s pretty much a new season so I’m not reading too much into it.”
Though Draisaitl won’t acknowledge it, part of the reason for his production against the Ducks likely comes from the decision to play him on the wing with centre Connor McDavid this season. Carlyle loves to use his last change to deploy perpetual pest Ryan Kesler against McDavid, leaving undersized Andrew Cogliano to deal with the stout Draisaitl.
Draisaitl can complement McDavid’s speed with a more physical approach but has an equally high level of skill. Patrick Maroon, who rounds out the top line, was quick to compliment Draisaitl’s vision and passing, which was evident in the second-round opener when he found a trailing Adam Larsson to set up a third-period goal.
“Probably one of the best passers in the league, too,” Maroon said. “I mean, he’s just one of those guys that finds a way every night.”
Taking away time and space from Draisaitl is the priority Friday night, Cogliano said. So too is cutting back on power-play opportunities for the Oilers, which give Draisaitl and McDavid even more chances to be out on the ice.
Draisaitl had assists on both of Mark Letestu’s power-play goals, including a 5-on-3 score for the Oilers’ first goal.
Pairing Draisaitl and McDavid has been fruitful for both players. McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy after finishing his sophomore season with 100 points, while Draisaitl finished eighth in the league with 77.
“I’m trying to be the best player I can personally possibly be, and I try to do that night in and night out,” Draisaitl said. “With that comes our chemistry. We really like playing with each other, we like each other off the ice. I’m happy when he scores, he’s happy when I score so it makes it a lot of fun.”
However, Draisaitl plays in relative obscurity compared to McDavid, the next face of the game.
Both teammates and opponents expect that to change quickly, especially after Draisaitl’s breakout four-point performance.
“We’re not surprised how good he is,” Cogliano said. “Leon is a guy that everyone kind of forgets about in what kind of player he is and how good he really is,” Maroon said. “We’re happy to have him on our team, but he’s been doing it all year. Not just against Anaheim, he’s been doing it all year.”
NOTES: Ducks D Kevin Bieksa is doubtful for Game 2 with a lower-body injury, Carlyle said. Bieksa suffered an apparent right leg injury in a collision with teammate Shea Theodore in the first period and left the game midway through the second. … Ducks D Sami Vatanen (upper body) said he is “really close” to returning after missing the last four playoff games.