Poor old Leon Draisaitl. Lost in the hoopla surrounding Connor McDavid collecting his 100th point of the 2020-21 season Saturday night was the Oilers’ big No. 29 becoming the first German to 500 career NHL points. What’s that old Eminem line, again?
Before earning that honor, Draisaitl first had to overtake those who came before him. He entered 2020-21 third all-time among German scorers with 422 points. Only Marco Sturm (487) and Jochen Hecht (463) had more. Draisaitl vaulted over Hecht on March 10 with his hat trick goal in the third period of the Oilers 7-1 rout of Ottawa. Then, when Draisaitl snapped a one-timer past Connor Hellebuyck at 11:40 of the second period in an April 26 Oilers trouncing of the Jets, Draisaitl officially became Germany’s preeminent scorer.
The following is a list of candidates who could soon join Draisaitl as their nations’ foremost attackers.
One thing is for sure, these are three NHLers who play like they’ve got something to say.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Denmark – Current Leader: Frans Nielsen (473)
The Jets tabbed Ehlers as their first pick in the 2014 draft, just six choices after the Oilers took Draisaitl. Barring injury, Ehlers is a near-lock to match his fellow 2014-draftee’s accomplishment. The 6-foot, 172-pound left winger currently sits fourth among Danish scorers, with 303 points. He trails only Frans Nielsen (473), Mikkel Boedker (327) and Lars Eller (317).
While Nielsen is still active, he has slowed significantly, scoring 15 points in 89 games over the past two seasons with Detroit. The 37-year-old doesn’t have much NHL runway left, though one year remains on his contract. He isn’t likely to push the bar much higher.
While Eller has much more tread left, he’s a mere 14 points up on Ehlers, and scores at a much lower clip (Eller, 0.40 points per game, Ehlers, 0.73). Next year, both will pass Boedker, who departed for Lugano in the Swiss National League in 2020-21. Ehlers should also overtake Eller sometime in 2021-22.
That’ll leave Ehlers with only Nielsen ahead by, say, January 2022. Ehlers is currently 170 points back of his countryman and is reaching the prime of his career on a team with a myriad of offensive weapons. After this season, Ehlers has four more years with the Jets before he becomes a UFA in the summer of 2025.
Over the past two seasons, Ehlers has 104 points in 118 games. That’s good for an 82-game pace of just over 72 points. At that pace, Ehlers will be within striking distance by 2023-24.
Ehlers missed the Jets’ past eight games with an upper-body injury and won’t suit up in the regular-season finale either. He also missed 20 games in 2018-19 but has otherwise been healthy the past five years. Overall, injuries aren’t a concern, so Ehlers should reach Nielsen without issue.
Assessment: He’s a lock.
Patrick Kane, United States – Current Leader: Brett Hull (1391)
The man they call ‘Showtime’ is already the United States’ active leader in points with 1088. Overall, he’s fifth among US players, behind Brett Hull (1391), Mike Modano (1374), Phil Housley (1232) and Jeremy Roenick (1216).
At 32, Kane is already considered by many to be the greatest American NHLer ever. He is certain to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame when he decides to call it a career.
The 5-foot-10, 177-pound right winger is past the prime scoring years for most NHL players (mid-20s) but defying the conventional is Kane’s motto. Patty Kane and the University of Ottawa, who’d a thunk it? Kane’s past three seasons make up three of his top four point-per-game averages in his career. Since 2018-19, Kane has 260 points in 207 games for an 82-game point pace a hair under 103.
Kane needs 303 points to catch Hull. You’d think his crazy scoring rate drops off a bit as he reaches his mid-30s, but it shouldn’t be a precipitous decline.
The shifty forward has missed just one game in the past six seasons for the Blackhawks, and that was with an illness. The last time Kane missed action with injury was in 2014-15 when was out of the Blackhawks’ final 21 regular-season games with a broken left clavicle.
Even if you pace him out at 0.80 points per game (his lowest-ever season mark), Kane would catch Modano toward the end of 2025-26, assuming he stays healthy.
‘Showtime’ has two years left on the eight-year, $84-million deal he signed with Chicago in July 2014. He doesn’t have anything left to prove as a three-time Cup champ with a slew of individual hardware to boot, so he could always hang ‘em up early. But – and keeping in mind 300 points isn’t exactly cake – that’s probably the only thing that would stop him.
With Kane’s freaky ability and the allure of becoming the highest-scoring American ever, he probably sticks it out.
Assessment: More probable than not.
Yegor Sharangovich, Belarus – Current Leader: Mikhail Grabovski (296)
Sharangovich has been a revelation this season for the Devils, scoring 16 goals and adding 14 assists in 54 games as a rookie.
The Devils chose the 6-foot-2, 196-pound center with the 141st pick in the 2018 draft. He spent two seasons with AHL Binghamton, amassing 42 points in 125 games with the baby Devils.
Sharangovich is already seventh in all-time scoring among Belarussians. None of the six (Mikhail Grabovski, Andrei Kostitsyn, Ruslan Salei, Sergei Kostitsyn, Vladimir Tsyplakov, Konstantin Koltsov) above him are still active in the NHL. Sharangovich is also tied with Andrei Kostitsyn for the best points-per-game average of any Belarussian NHLer. The elder Kostitsyn brother played only 398 NHL games before heading overseas ahead of the 2012-13 season, so if Sharangovich sticks it out in North America, he has a chance to set a new standard for his nation.
Sharangovich produced 27 of 30 points at even strength this year. His overall shooting percentage of 14 percent and on-ice shooting percentage of 10.63 percent at all strengths (per naturalstattrick.com) are both a bit high but aren’t completely insane.
He was also a rookie adjusting to the best league in the world this year, so he could well sustain or improve his pace despite his good fortune. It’s too early to make a definitive call, but if you’re looking to make a long play? Sharangovich is your man.
Assessment: So, I’m telling you there’s a chance (but for real).
Finally, keep an eye out for Yusaku Ando. Ando, born in Tomakomai, Japan, has a real chance to be chosen in the latter stages of the 2021 draft. The Minnesota State commit is just 5-foot-7 and 147 pounds, but someone could take a shot on his skill set. He had 8 goals and 23 points for USHL Youngstown this season. He would be the first Japanese skater in NHL history (goalie Yutaka Fukufuji is Japan’s only NHLer to date). A point would make him Japan’s leading scorer.