Thursday, July 3, 2014

What To Expect From Draisaitl

Leon Draisaitl suiting up for the Prince Albert Raiders
On the 27th of June, the Edmonton Oilers selected Leon Draisaitl with the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Draisaitl, a lumbering centre from Cologne, Germany, spent the 2013-14 season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. Selecting the big German caused a wave of excitement throughout the Edmonton fan base, as Draisaitl finally brings the promise of size and strength down the middle for a team desperately lacking in that department. Now comes the question, what can we expect from Draisaitl in terms of immediate impact? Let’s take a look.

The Oilers have been known to rush their top picks into NHL action right off the bat, and I see no reason to expect any different from them this year. First of all, there aren’t a lot of alternatives at centre right now. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon are both established NHL pivots, but that’s about it. Next in line would be Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello and of course, Draisaitl.

Right away it looks like the Oilers will require Leon’s services immediately. He certainly has the size to handle the warzone that is the Western Conference, as he already stands at 6’2 and 204 pounds. The question is, will he be ready to handle the rigors of matching up against the best in the West? We’re talking about the Joe Thorntons, Anze Kopitars and Ryan Getzlafs of the league, and that’s no small task. In all likelihood, Draisaitl won’t be ready to handle that kind of heavy defensive assignment just yet.

My thinking is that he needs at least two years of softer minutes so that he can adjust to the pace of the game and learn how to play responsibly. Ideally, Edmonton would send out the Nuge as the first line centre, Gordon as a tough-minutes fourth liner, and Draisaitl as a sheltered third line centre. The only way this can come to fruition is if the Oilers find someone to fill the gap on the second line until Draisaitl is ready.
Draisaitl representing his native Germany

We’ve established that Draisaitl would be best off in a sheltered third line role, getting fed easy minutes against middling competition. Maybe pair him up with Yakupov and let them develop together as they go through the inevitable road bumps that all young NHLers face. It’s very possible that Draisaitl is incredibly lost in his own end of the rink this year, and fans need to be prepared to accept that. In my mind, 30 or 40 points would be a successful rookie season for him.

Keep in mind that it can take several years for young players to reach their potential. The Draisaitl that we see this upcoming season won’t be the Draisaitl that we get for the next ten years. He has the skill set to be an elite second line centre, and if the Oilers handle his development properly they’ll have an excellent weapon on their hands. It’s not every day that you stumble upon a player with the physical tools that Draisaitl possesses at such an early age.

Draisaitl carries some significant offensive acumen, as exemplified by his 105 points in 64 games in the ‘Dub. I would bet on that production transferring over to the NHL in a few years. From what I’ve seen of him, Draisaitl is an excellent playmaker with superb passing and puck skills. When he engages, he can dominate any given shift with his strength and puck protection abilities. At some times he can appear passive, but he certainly does have an edge to his game. In terms of temperament, he shares a lot of similarities with superstar Evgeni Malkin. As for physical abilities, he compares favourably to a Jamie Benn or Anze Kopitar type of player.

To recap, the best course of action would be to ease Draisaitl into the NHL this year and allow him to learn the game in a soft-minutes role. If the Oilers take their time with him and temper their expectations, Draisaitl has the chance to develop into the perfect second line centre that every team needs to compete in the Western Conference.

Thanks for reading, the future looks bright in Edmonton!

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