The emergence of Leon Draisaitl
It is early 2017 and the Edmonton Oilers are currently in third place in the Pacific Division with a record (19-13-7). Simply put, if the playoffs started tomorrow, the Oilers would be in. This is a significant improvement for a franchise that is currently in a ten-year playoff drought.
Many fans attribute the team’s success to one name only – Connor McDavid. The McDavid hype is so real that many non-Oilers fans have trouble naming a second player on the Edmonton roster. Amid all this praise, an impressive story has been quietly developing under the radar without much notice – the emergence of Leon Draisaitl.
Dr. Drai: The next episode
The stellar play of Draisaitl this season is reminding us why he is the highest drafted German-trained player to enter the NHL (taken third overall in the 2014 draft). Through 39 games, he has an impressive 14 goals, 19 assists for a total of 33 points, good enough to be a top-25 scorer in the NHL. Impressively, he is currently outscoring elite names like Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry, and John Tavares.
Although it is tough to say if he can continue to produce at this rate, it is still impressive for someone who is barely 21-years-old and has less than 150 games of NHL experience.
Draisaitl’s first two seasons of professional hockey haven’t always been a smooth ride. He was criticized by scouts for his subpar skating abilities – many felt he would not be able to keep up at the NHL level. Despite the criticism, he made it to the Oilers roster right out of training camp in October 2014 but followed up the strong start with a very forgettable rookie campaign – scoring only two goals and nine points in 37 games before being sent back to junior hockey.
Things got even more complicated after the Oilers won the NHL draft lottery in the summer of 2015. Winning the rights to draft Connor McDavid meant that the team had great depth at the center position and can look at trade options to improve the team in other areas.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins still in the mix, analysts began to question Draisaitl’s long-term future with the team. Trade rumors began to snowball as many saw him being the expendable piece for some immediate help on defense.
Draisaitl’s 2015/16 Season
His career downtrend continued in the Fall of 2015. He did not make it to the Oilers roster out of training camp and was demoted to the American Hockey League to start the season. Playing with the Bakersfield Condors, he posted very pedestrian numbers with two points in six games with a -5 rating.
Fortuitously, the Oilers had injury problems and elected to call him up for immediate help later that October. He relished the opportunity and managed to find chemistry with Taylor Hall, the pair put up decent numbers together, providing most of the team’s offense after McDavid went down in November.
Draisaitl ended up sticking with the club for the rest of the year. Despite some inconsistencies along the way, he ended the season with 51 points in 72 games and finished as the team’s second-leading scorer.
Draisaitl’s 2016/17 Season
With the departure of Taylor Hall over the summer of 2016, the Oilers had major offensive voids to fill. Management was hoping that other forwards would step into bigger offensive roles but they were not sure who that would be. Aside from McDavid, would it be Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic or somebody else?
Finally, after a near 40 game sample size, we are starting to see ‘Dr. Drai’ pull away from the pack. He has taken major steps in showing potential to become an elite scorer. He is tied for second in the NHL in powerplay goals and has proven to be a difference maker for the Oilers on many nights. If he continues to produce at this rate, we will likely see him join McDavid at the All-Star game in Los Angeles on January 29, 2017.
Can Draisaitl be McDavid’s Malkin?
Connor McDavid often draws comparisons to Sidney Crosby. If we play along with that logic, the next question would be – who is McDavid’s Malkin? Rather, who is the complementary player who can help him co-carry the Oilers into championship aspirations.
Can Leon Draisaitl bring his game to the next level and become that elite player? Only time will tell, but early indications seem to have put the odds in his favor.
Can Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid take the Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals? Let us know in the comments section below.
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