Fantasy Cage Match: Barzal vs. Draisaitl

by Rick Roos on March 14, 2018

This is one of my favorite times of year for Cage Matches, since I have enough season-long data to see if breakout players are for real or simply enjoying a long but ultimately unsustainable spike in production. Case in point is Mathew Barzal, who, although always highly touted, has already far and away exceeded rookie expectations. Taking on Barzal is Leon Draisaitl, who might be in the midst of one of the quietest 75-80+ point seasons in recent memory. Which of these two should you want to own in fantasy? Cage Match is here to lead you down the correct path.


Career Path and Contract Status

Barzal, 20, was selected 15th overall in 2015 after posting 54 and 57 points in two WHL seasons. The Isles opted to let him stay in juniors for two more seasons, which saw Barzal post a collective 167 points in a mere 99 games, signifying he was NHL ready. Sure enough he broke camp with the big club this season tabbed as its second line center; after a somewhat slow October (7 points in 12 games), he’s posted 12+ points per month of the season, plus tallied a remarkable three separate five point games.

Draisaitl, 22, was picked third overall in 2014 after posting 105 points in 64 OHL games. He was ticketed to Edmonton right away but struggled (nine points in 37), leading him back to juniors, where he once again shined (53 points in 32 games). The 2015-16 campaign saw Draisaitl stick in Edmonton, where he emerged with 31 points in 28 games and posted 51 for the season. He built on that with 77 points last season, and in 2017-18 might hit the 80-point mark for the first of what could be many occasions.

Barzal is arguably one of hockey’s best bargains, playing on an ELC that runs through 2020-21 and dings the cap at $0.863M per season. Draisaitl’s cap hit is a lofty $8.5M per season through 2024-25.

Ice Time (data in this and the other tables is current through March 12th)


Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)


17:35 (M.B.) – 3rd

19:17 (L.D.) – 2nd

3:07 (M.B.) – 1st (tied)

2:43 (L.D.) – 2nd

0:02 (M.B.) – 12th (tied)

0:52 (L.D.) – 7th


18:53 (L.D.) – 2nd

2:54 (L.D.) – 2nd

0:25 (L.D.) – 9th


18:03 (L.D.) – 4th

2:33 (L.D.) – 6th

0:03 (L.D.) – 12th


The questions surrounding Draisaitl entering 2017-18 were how dependent his scoring was on playing with Connor McDavid, and could he produce gaudy numbers if/when they played fewer shifts together. After all, last season Edmonton scored 2.52 goals per 60 minutes when Draisaitl played apart from McDavid, versus 3.57 when McDavid was apart from Draisaitl and 4.00 when the two skated together.


Digging deeper, last season McDavid and Draisaitl shared the ice for roughly 80% of Draisaitl’s even strength (ES) shifts, and Draisaitl tallied 31 of his 50 ES points (i.e., 62%) with McDavid also on the ice. Fast forward to 2017-18, and although they’ve played a good bit less together at even strength (just under 65% of their ES shifts), the percentage of Draisaitl’s scoring at ES with McDavid has stayed nearly the same – 30 of 50 points (i.e., 60%). Thus, Draisaitl is arguably relying on McDavid more to score this season than last.


But let’s remember, for 2017-18 Draisaitl’s other line mates have been arguably less skilled than last season, with the departure of Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missing time due to injury. Plus, McDavid and Draisaitl are signed for years to come, so if they “need” to play together for one or both to succeed, what’s wrong with that? Look at Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, or Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Concern about Draisaitl’s dependence on McDavid is seemingly overblown or, even if true to some extent, shouldn’t scare off poolies.


As for Barzal, his Ice Time is low for his scoring pace; but with scoring being up for 2017-18, it now takes less TOI to score as many points. To illustrate, Barzal’s points per 60 minutes is 3.41, ranking him just outside the top ten for 2017-18. But it also puts him within the top 25 for all skaters who played in 60+ games in any season since 2010-11! In fact, 14 of the top 30 instances of 60+ game forwards in P/60 since 2010-11 are from 2017-18. Thus, what was once thought impossible (or highly unlikely) in terms of TOI and production is now seemingly possible, provided scoring stays high in future seasons. Beyond that, Barzal is in an Ice Time sweet spot, with almost no SH duty and a high percentage of PP Time, plus a low enough overall Ice Time to ward off concern about a rookie wall.


Secondary Categories




(per game)


(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)


(per game)

PP Points

(per game)


0.34 (M.B.)

0.40 (L.D.)

0.26 (M.B.)

0.54 (L.D.)

0.39 (M.B.)

0.34 (L.D.)

2.17 (M.B.)

2.50 (L.D.)

0.29 (M.B.)

0.12 (L.D.)


0.24 (L.D.)

0.50 (L.D.)

0.44 (L.D.)

2.09 (L.D.)

0.31 (L.D.)


0.27 (L.D.)

0.52 (L.D.)

0.25 (L.D.)

1.84 (L.D.)

0.12 (L.D.)


As Draisaitl’s SOG rate has increased, so has his scoring. But his PPP rate is tracking his first full season after being nearly triple that rate last year. Cause for concern? Most likely no, as it’s perhaps due to the Oilers having no real PP QB plus it can’t realistically get any worse, except in the highly unlikely event Draisaitl’s role on the PP is de-emphasized. Think of it this way – if Draisaitl’s PP scoring this season was merely the average of 2015-16 and 2016-17, he’d be headed toward 85+ points. Of course, there could be reason to worry if Draisaitl’s luck metrics – notably his IPP and/or team shooting % – paint the picture of unsustainable good luck this season and/or last. We’ll check on those below.


Barzal has already reached 50 assists; and if he stays at point per game scoring he’ll be just the fourth forward to meet both criteria as a first-year player since 1995-96, with the others being Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin. If we go back to 1990-91, we can add two others, the venerable Teemu Selanne, plus one who doesn’t stack up – Joe Juneau. But I’m not seeing parallels with Juneau and Barzal, since Juneau was a winger playing with a 142-point Adam Oates. In other words, Juneau was along for the ride, while at even strength Barzal plays with no one of the caliber of Oates and thus is making more things happen on his own. In doing so, I’d liken Barzal’s accomplishments more to those of Crosby, whose 102 rookie points were nearly 50 more than any other forward he skated with at ES.


But before we anoint Barzal the second coming of any of these players, let alone Crosby, we need to realize he’s not cut from the same cloth. In particular, his 2.17 SOG per game is more than a full SOG less than Crosby averaged and nearly that much less than Malkin’s rookie average. If we look instead at forwards who had 55+ assists (Barzal is on pace for 60) and averaged 2-2.5 SOG per game in a season while age 25 or younger since 1995-96, the good news is all ten who met the criteria not only scored 70+ points in that particular season but also at least one other campaign as well. However, although the list includes some fantasy luminaries Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Ryan Getzlaf, Doug Weight and Nicklas Backstrom, it also features Ales Hemsky, Josef Stumpel, Scott Gomez, and Paul Stastny. Thus, Barzal’s accomplishments may indeed portend greatness, yet his failure to shoot the puck a lot allows for him also to be rightfully compared to some players who were unable to sustain successful fantasy careers.


Luck-Based Metrics



Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %


13.0% (M.B.)

13.8% (L.D.)

9.44% (M.B.)

9.17% (L.D.)

74.2% (M.B.)

75.3% (L.D.)

52.2% (M.B.)

55.4% (L.D.)

24.8 (M.B.)

24.1 (L.D.)

49% (M.B.)

25% (L.D.)


16.9% (L.D.)

9.74% (L.D.)

70.6% (L.D.)

53.2% (L.D.)

20.4 (L.D.)

35% (L.D.)


14.3% (L.D.)

8.03% (L.D.)

73.9% (L.D.)

53.8% (L.D.)

23.5 (L.D.)

50% (L.D.)


The news for Draisaitl is encouraging pretty much across the board. For one, he’s managing to produce just as well this season as last despite sporting lower team shooting and secondary assists percentages. Why might his secondary assists percentage be so low? Probably due in part to the chemistry between him and McDavid, where one of them likely scores from the other’s pass, and vice versa. And this too would be an area that should rise if (when?) the Oilers start achieving more success on the PP.


Looking at the other areas, things are also rock solid with respect to IPP, with Draisaitl being above the “magic” 70% threshold in each of his full seasons, which is no small task when playing as much as he does with a point magnet like McDavid, who sports a career IPP average above 80%, meaning when a goal is scored with McDavid on the ice in most cases there are at most two other points available for the other four skaters out there with him. So the fact that Draisaitil has managed to stay above 70% for his IPP not only further underscores his chemistry with McDavid, but also his own nose for scoring.


Barzal’s team shooting percentage is elevated; however, I’d argue that for it to be high despite him being on a line with less talented players is more of a testament to his skill than being the beneficiary of unsustainable good luck. Predictably his IPP is also high; however, if it was to go down that would mean he’d have better players surrounding him who’d also help create more goals, and the net result could be no lost points. In other words, the fact that both his IPP and his team shooting percentages are high is a better sign than if one was high but the other low. His secondary assists percentage is higher than is likely sustainable; but that too isn’t as much of a concern given his circumstances, since if he had more talented line mates some of those could instead be goals or primary assists.


Who Wins?


Nothing against Barzal, but Draisaitl wins the match. If Edmonton was having even a halfway decent season both in general (they’re on pace for 228 goals for 2017-18, which would be 15 fewer than last season) and on the PP (they’re converting on 15.2% of the PP chances this season, down sharply from 22.9 last year), we’d likely be looking at Draisaitl making a push for 85+ points. Barzal is having a rookie season for the ages; however, as we saw above his lack of SOG puts him as much at risk of turning into a Stumpel, Gomez, or Hemsky, as it does a Getzlaf, Backstrom, or Thornton.


If you can parlay Edmonton’s disappointing season and Draistail’s “quiet” 75-80 point pace into getting him for a lower cost than might be expected, you should likely pull the trigger, since the price might not be this low again for the next decade. Barzal is likely a hold, although by the same token if you’re in a non-cap league you couldn’t be faulted if you explored selling him for proven point per game or better value or to upgrade at another position, since given what you likely paid to get Barzal that would be a very good return on investment.


Recent Cage Matches:

Vegas, Part 1

Vegas, Part 2