The day he was drafted, Oilers fans agreed it was great to finally have a ‘big, skilled 2C’ in the system for the first time since Jason Arnott. One year later? He’s moving down the depth chart, but he’s innocent—with an explanation.
PREVIOUSLY NO. 2 ON THE WINTER LIST
- December 2005: C Marc-Antoine Pouliot
- December 2006: C Rob Schremp
- December 2007: C Andrew Cogliano
- December 2008: R Jordan Eberle
- December 2009: R Jordan Eberle
- December 2010: R Jordan Eberle
- December 2011: C Anton Lander
- December 2012: D Justin Schultz
- December 2013: D Oscar Klefbom
- December 2014: D Darnell Nurse
The Oilers spent decades without drafting a quality defenseman. Their (drafted) franchise Top 5 in GP gives us a good indication of when the club was having success: Paul Coffey (1409 NHL games), Kevin Lowe (1254), Tom Poti (824), Steve Smith and Jeff Beukeboom (both 804 games). Wow. The best defenseman in GP drafted this century? Matt Greene, 589 NHL games and counting. The No. 2 slot on the Oilers list has delivered some very good players, including Jordan Eberle, Andrew Cogliano and the three defenders from 2012-14 should have successful careers. Will Leon be the best center on that list when all is said and done? I think he will.
WHAT THEY SAID ON DRAFT DAY
- Red Line: Huge German centre is tenacious in puck pursuit with his relentless forecheck often creating chances for linemates. Dominates the game down low with outstanding puck protection. Constantly outthinks the opposition and knows where his outlets are at all times. Has learned to use his size to carve out space for himself and effectively separate opponents from the puck. Strong hockey sense in all three zones leads to good positioning. Traditional playmaking centre finds ‘mates with crisp, accurate passes. Intelligent, two-way, classically schooled centre. Outshone Reinhart in head-to-head action against Kootenay.
- Corey Pronman: Draisaitl is a great passer who can beat defenders with skill, puck protection, determination or his shot. I’ve heard some scouts suggest him as a top-3 pick, but I’d like to see him get quicker before I put him in that range.
- Craig Button: Leon is a big centre who is smart, can make plays and can impact the game in multiple ways. He’s the type of centre who is coveted by many NHL clubs because of his combination of size and skill.
- Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey: “The big centre (listed as 6’1, 209) was neither overly physically aggressive nor a speedster, but largely impressed this observer with his overall command of the game. The play went through his stick constantly, and for the most part, good or at least promising things developed thereafter. He showed a couple of bursts of what I would term “situational speed” but his A game is clearly one of controlling the play rather than pushing it. As I said to my voice recorder at one point, “When the puck is on Draisaitl’s stick, he owns it. Even if there’s a guy in his kitchen he’s in full control.”
- BOB MCKENZIE, TSN: NO. 4
- RED LINE REPORT: NO. 4
- CRAIG BUTTON: NO. 4
- ISS: NO. 6
- MCKEENS: NO. 4
- HOCKEYPROSPECT.COM: NO. 6
- Leon was not ranked higher than No. 4 on any major list, but Edmonton selected him No. 3 overall.
- Summer 2014: No. 1
- Winter 2014: No. 1
- Summer 2015: No. 2
- Winter 2015: No. 2
"I think he is just a bit ahead as a professional right now and he is a natural winger." Chiarelli on Slepyshev over Draisaitl. #Oilers
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) October 5, 2015
- Peter Chiarelli: Chiarelli: “I really like the player. Big, strong, heavy on the puck. He makes plays from both sides of his stick, and protects the puck. I love that about him. His speed is good and getting to speed is an area he’ll find.” Source.
- Peter Chiarelli: “What we told him was – and I don’t know how much he heard, but we have to look at the big picture – ‘You had a good camp, you outplayed some people, no question there, play ramps up, things change, dynamics of the games change as games progress into the regular season. When we call you up, we want you to stay here for good. You have to work on the 200-foot game. Offensively you can play in the NHL right now, you have to work on the 200 foot game, the little stuff on the defensive side of the puck.’ Whether it’s at wing or centre – he’ll play predominantly centre down there – he now has another asset to his game because he can play both sides on the wing. We tried to send him down with a good message, he was upset but I think at the end of the day he’ll realize it was the right move.” Source
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 30, 2015
- Todd McLellan: “I look at Leon Draisiatl, and in my opinion Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid are going to be #1 and #2 centremen in our organization for a long, long time, they’re that talented and that good. Not that Leon isn’t… But career-wise, he might love to be on one of their wings and playing in the top six rather than maybe being that third-line centre. I think it’s really unfair to peg him there, but we have to look at it from that perspective. [The defensive] responsibilities as a winger are somewhat less, his boardwork is quite good, and one of the things that impressed me the most about Leon is his ability to play on his backhand. Joe Thornton has incredible eyes and makes incredible passes on his backhand. For a young man like Leon, he did the exact same thing at our summer development camp, which is something I wasn’t aware of.” Source
- Todd McLellan: “There’s a big debate about why Leon isn’t up with us. When he’s one of the better players down there, trust me, he’ll be here.” Source
5×5 points per 60: 2.87 No. 2 among forwards
5×4 points per 60: 16.82 No. 2 among forwards
Qual Comp: No. 4 among C’s
Qual Team: No. 1 among C’s
Corsi Rel: 1.9 No. 4 among F’s
Corsi for % 5×5: 52.4
Zone Start: 65.6
Shots on goal/percentage: 13/23.1
- Faceoff %: 35
Boxcars: 5GP, 3-4-7 (On pace for 72, 43-58-101—small sample size alert!)
Lots of unsustainable here, Leon’s shooting percentage is not going to stay at 23. Still, the goals he is scoring are from big opportunity spots, so the market correction may not be as severe as history suggests. He’s a sublime passer, I think Draisaitl ends up with a large number of assists if he plays on a skill line.
When everyone is back healthy, I do hope Leon and Lander get some time together. Suspect there may be something in that duo.
Leon’s hour with the rockets was very productive and we may see him playing up over the next few weeks. Leon’s obvious skills make him a strong option for C, but I’m loving that great big paddle on RH-side with those saucer passes coming early and often. Joe Pavelski, indeed.
Another assist for Leon Draisaitl. He's got 6 points in 2.3 games. #Oilers
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) November 4, 2015
Leon Draisaitl earned his way onto the roster, but Edmonton’s management had some cap issues and probably felt getting Griffin Reinhart at-bats was more important long term (both have massive cap bonuses). Leon strikes me as the kind of fellow who will work day and night to overcome obstacles and establish himself, and that’s exactly what he’s done so far in the NHL this season.
I think the Oilers are uncertain about how to use Leon, and there’s a chance—however slight—he’s the man moving on for help on defense. The temptation has to be high for Peter Chiarelli, but I’m hopeful the management stays the course. Skill feeds skill, and Leon’s golden passes could feed 100’s of Oilers goals rolling out over the next decade and beyond.
It’s quite unusual—especially in the modern era—to have three impact centers. Back in the olden days, Montreal had a secret weapon behind Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard (Ralph Backstrom) but the Pittsburgh Penguins of Crosby, Malkin and Staal is the most famous this century.
I don’t think this Oilers trio works, really. All three are substantial offensive players, and in order for this to work Edmonton would need six wingers who could either push the river or thrive in a complementary role. I think there’s a chance, despite his size and skill and the fact he’s a center, we see Leon play the wing for major portions of his early NHL career. This is not a checker, and three scoring lines belong in the unicorn division.
THE 2014 DRAFT
- Leon Draisaitl No. 3 overall and having a strong run in the NHL this season. He’s over 40 games now, he’ll graduate from this list by summer. Leon’s main calling card is skill, although his size and strength will give him some range and there’s every reason to expect he can develop as a two-way player. No. 2 prospect, Winter 2015.
- William Lagesson No. 91 overall and starting well in his freshman NCAA season (9GP, 1-2-3). Most of his value will be defensive, but the college season will be our first real chance to run him through NHLE. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Zach Nagelvoort No. 111 overall and he’s been going backwards since draft day. 4GP, 3.00, .878 so far at Michigan, he appears to be winning the No. 1 G job back but is miles from the .929SP of his draft year. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Liam Coughlin No. 130 overall and is now part of the Chicago Blackhawks prospect umbrella. Peter Chiarelli dealt him to the ‘Hawks for goalie Anders Nilsson. No longer in organization.
- Tyler Vesel No. 153 overall and struggling through 10 games in his sophomore NCAA season. His four assists in those games represent a step down from last season’s point total, but there’s plenty of time to recover. A candidate for the Winter top 20.
- Keven Bouchard No. 183 overall and 11GP, 4.97 .847. They saw him for a period.
THE WIND CRIES LAZY
When I was young, my favorite hockey player was Frank Mahovlich. Despite being a wonderful player, ‘Big Frank’ was often criticized by fans (and Punch Imlach) for inconsistency. The phrase ‘don’t wake up Frank’ was a thing, partly because The Big M’s size and stride made him look slow and plodding. The truth is Mahovlich was a very good skater and highly skilled, and because of Imlach’s ridiculous and juvenile treatment (often called him Mala-hovich) I think this player never got his due.
Big men often look slower, we see them skating but it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of effort. Long strides are effective ones, and Leon Draisaitl can absolutely keep up with the fast trains on the Edmonton Oilers. He does not have McDavid or Hall speed, but there’s about 650 NHL players who are just as guilty. Draisaitl’s straight away speed is very good, and his first-step quickness has improved to my eye.
I hope Leon doesn’t spend a Mahovlich lifetime having to endure criticism for something he is not (slow). He’s a good skater, better than we first saw him. In my experience as a hockey fan, young men who identify weakness and close it off are destined to become very successful. Leon Draisaitl appears to be that rare combination of hard, determined worker and genuinely gifted talent. In an era when diamonds fall from the sky each June and land in our city, it would be easy to overlook the big man from Cologne. I believe it unwise to do so.