Draisaitl’s return adds spice to Crosby vs. McDavid

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Anytime you get the chance to see Connor McDavid vs. Sidney Crosby, you’re already in for the treat. It sure looks like tonight’s Edmonton Oilers – Pittsburgh Penguins matchup will actually be McDavid and Leon Draisaitl vs. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

(You know, if you think of everything in terms of “NBA Jam,” which isn’t the worst way to view the world, really.)

Earlier today, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said that Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula would play pending medical clearance. Sportsnet’s John Shannon just recently reported that both forwards have been officially cleared.

Now, you can already chalk up some of the 2-5-0 Edmonton Oilers’ offensive struggles to simple, bad luck. The Oilers are a top possession team but only the Montreal Canadiens have a lower team shooting percentage so far in 2017-18, according to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers.

Even if Draisaitl experiences an unexpected hiccup, the Oilers’ scoring numbers should go up simply by continuing to play and letting time even things out. That said, these projected lines from Daily Faceoff sure seem a lot more pleasing to the eye, don’t they?

The return of the $8.5M soon-to-be-22-year-old will probably reignite the debate that could follow the Oilers for some time: do you put Draisaitl with McDavid for a high-powered top line, or do you emulate the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks by asking big-money forwards to carry their own partners?

Interestingly, the one positive side effect of Draisaitl being sidelined with vision issues and/or concussion symptoms is that the Oilers might have found the Jake Guentzel to their Sidney Crosby during Kailer Yamamoto’s audition with McDavid.

Yamamoto looks to be a first-round steal, as his creativity and skill seems to mesh reasonably well with McDavid, while Patrick Maroon brings the beef. On paper, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could provide matchup nightmares on other lines.

MORE: Penguins see changes in trading for Riley Sheahan, parting ways with Antti Niemi.

Granted, McLellan might just want to ease Draisaitl back into the lineup early on before going with something approaching a more permanent choice.

(At least as permanent as anything can be in the NHL, where injuries and streaks prompt all but the most rigid coaches to do at least some juggling of line combos.)

McDavid vs. Crosby would be must-watch even if they were surrounded by Brooklyn Brawler-level talents, but the likely return of Draisaitl only adds to the intrigue. Get your popcorn ready, hockey fans.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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