EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — The two biggest cornerstones of the emerging Edmonton Oilers franchise are now locked up for the long haul.
Six weeks after extending Connor McDavid for eight years and $100 million, the Oilers signed 21-year-old Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year contract with a sizable annual cap hit of $8.5 million. Paired primarily with McDavid, Draisaitl posted a career-best 77 points last season — eighth best in the NHL.
He added another 16 points during Edmonton’s first playoff run in more than a decade — separated, eventually, from the precocious Oilers captain.
“I’m really excited to be back for eight years,” Draisaitl told the Oilers website after the signing was announced.
“I never really thought about going anywhere else. We have something really special. We have a great group of guys. It’s something I wanted to be a part of as long as possible.”
In securing his long-term rights, the Oilers are betting on Draisaitl, a restricted free agent and one of only seven German NHLers last season, to thrive with or without McDavid, the reigning winner of the Art Ross and Hart trophies and Ted Lindsay Award.
The third overall pick of the 2014 draft, Draisaitl stands to own the 10th-highest cap hit in hockey next year — equal to Lightning captain and two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner Steven Stamkos.
Draisaitl’s second NHL deal slightly exceeds recent eight-year pacts handed out to 25-year-old Predators center Ryan Johansen ($8 million cap hit) and 25-year-old Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8 million cap hit).
Both were signing their third NHL deals, however, and are slightly older than Draisaitl, who won’t turn 22 until Oct. 27.
Draisaitl, a natural center, slid to right wing alongside McDavid at the start of December and went on to get 60 points in 58 games — sixth in the NHL over that span.
In question now and moving forward is whether the Oilers keep the two franchise stars together and have them skate as a duo, or split them apart for increased depth.
Coach Todd McLellan went in the latter direction midway through a second-round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks, and it worked effectively. Draisaitl, centering a second unit, scored once in a Game 5 overtime loss and then had a hat trick and five points in a 7-1 Game 6 rout.