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Draisaitl is a piece the Oilers need but will have to earn his spot

Leon Draisaitl brings much-needed size and offence to the Oilers centre group but will still need to earn his spot this season

Saturday, 05.07.2014 / 5:49 PM / Features
By Chris Wescott  - edmontonoilers.com

JASPER, AB - As the third overall pick in the NHL Draft, you’re expected to contribute quickly. It’s a big investment, and the organization will want to see the reward.

“Obviously there is a little bit of pressure as people expect quite a bit from a third overall pick or any first round pick,” Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers first round selection in this year’s draft, said. “I think there is a little bit of pressure but I think for me personally the most important thing is that I just do what I am doing best and just doing what I can control. That is basically just going out there and working as hard as I can and being the best player I can be.”

Draisaitl will be among the group of Oilers prospects battling in training camp for a spot on the NHL club’s roster. Where Draisaitl has a leg up in that race is the lack of established NHL competition at the centre position. But it is his size that probably helps him the most.

At 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, Draisaitl is the biggest centre option the Oilers have currently. That may change with General Manager Craig MacTavish saying the team would like to still add another centre to the mix. But for now, Draisaitl has the size to not only compete against the current Oilers crop of men up the middle, but also with NHL opponents.

“I think it always makes it a little bit easier when you’re big, when you’re strong,” he said. “I think that might give me a little more advantage than maybe some other guys. But you never know. I think it’s good for me personally that I am big and strong now. I just need to add the little things like the speed. I think I’m close to playing.”

It’s Draisaitl’s size that allows him to play well with the puck. Coupled with a high-offensive set of skills, Draisaitl’s size allows him to shield the puck from defenders and make plays on the ice, especially down low in front of and behind the net. It could help shield some of the growing pains an 18-year-old player would have making the jump to the NHL.

Photo by Getty Images.

“I like protecting the puck a lot down low. I like to shield it from the defencemen with my body, with the back of my body and I like to use my body a lot to hold defenders away from myself. That’s I would say one of my strengths for sure.”

Making the Oilers roster out of training camp is not a certain lock for a rookie player this year. Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins conceded that Draisaitl’s size “stands alone” but that like any other young player he will have to earn his spot come training camp.

Recently, the Oilers have spoken of an emphasis on not rushing their prospects. So although Draisaitl adds an element to their roster that they are salivating to have, he still has to earn it.

“The one thing I will say about centre is that Leon Draisaitl is an element that we did add in the draft that we think is going to fill that position for a long time,” MacTavish said. “We do have some depth there but they are young, developing players and any decision regarding Leon or any of those young players will be made strictly based on what the best situation is for the player and not what’s best for the team.”

“I think he helps fill a need,” Oilers Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor adds. “He gives us an opportunity to have a strong centreman with some size that can play ahead of or behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whichever way it works. We’ll give him that opportunity but also have to tell you he’s still a junior-age player who may need time and we’ll just give him that time for him to become the prospect we hope he can be.”

Photo by Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oil Kings

Draisaitl admits there’s still some work to do before he has earned his opportunities in the NHL. He says working on his speed will be a major emphasis. Those are things that will come to him in time as he works with the Oilers strength and conditioning staff and coaches. He plans on spending his summer training in Edmonton. Similar to players like seventh overall pick in 2013 Darnell Nurse, Draisaitl will have to force Edmonton’s hand this season if he wants to make the jump immediately.

“I think it is a learning process for any 18-year-old kid,” Draisaitl said. “But at the same time, I think if a player is ready to play and step in and make an impact then why wouldn’t you let him play and give him a chance? I think there’s a lot of players who aren’t ready and come in to training camp, they’re young and that’s usually every 18-year-old kid is not as strong as an NHL player. I think it’s a learning process but if a player is ready and he wants to make an impact then there is no way you can get around letting him play.”

Two on-ice sessions is not nearly enough to form concrete opinions on a player. But Draisaitl’s participation at Oilers Orientation Camp in Jasper has given the club’s coaching staff a chance to get a sneak peek of the organization’s shiny new prospect.

“I like his vision on the ice,” said Oklahoma City Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson, who is no stranger to the Oilers prospect pool. “He’s able to find guys and he makes creative plays. He’s a big guy, everybody can see that. He’s really thick. The biggest thing is to get his tempo and his skating up to speed with the NHL level.”

Nelson says it’s really early to tell right now, but Draisaitl has a chance to make this year’s Oilers training camp quite the show.

“It’s going to be a competitive training camp, it’s going to be very exciting, it’s going to be a competitive camp and Leon is going to try and get a spot with the Oilers. I like his vision. He sees the ice so well, he finds guys in open areas and he has a high skill set. You couple that with a big body and it’s pretty intriguing to see a guy like that play up the middle.”

Draisaitl has a whole summer to train and prepare himself for the competition of training camp. He’s a young player but there is a reason numerous Oilers scouts, coaches and members of management are “excited” about the kid’s future.

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