Don’t put Leon Draisaitl’s name on the Oilers’ 2014-15 roster in ink just yet

Jonathan Willis
July 03 2014 06:29PM

Draisaitl, Leon

Dallas Eakins gave a wide-ranging interview from the Oilers summer orientation camp on Thursday, but understandably much of the discussion focused on the young centre that Edmonton took third overall in June’s draft. Can Leon Draisaitl help fill the hole in the middle of the Oilers’ forward depth chart as early as next season?

Eakins made it clear that he was keeping an open mind as to Draisaitl’s on-ice capabilities.

“It’s hard for me to have a really hard opinion,” he said. “I saw him play an afternoon game against the Oil Kings. I’ve seen him play not even 60 minutes of hockey; he probably played in that game 21 minutes. I’m not going to lay down my opinion on a viewing of a player in one game.”

While Eakins wasn’t willing to commit himself one way or the other on a player he really hasn’t had much opportunity to see play, he was willing to speak in general terms about the position and the proper development route for a young player.

Hiding a Centre

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Asked about whether it was easier to shelter an inexperienced forward than a defenceman, Eakins agreed but with a caveat. 

 “I think the guy that has it the easiest, that you could maybe hide, would be a very young winger,” he said. “After that it would be a centre, [then] the D. You’ve got to be careful. Leon’s a centreman, he’s got great responsibility on the ice, but we’ll see how this goes. I have expectations for our high picks; that they turn into very good NHL players. I have no expectations about when that will be.”

It’s not a surprise to hear Eakins say what really represents conventional wisdom about NHL hockey. When Craig MacTavish mentioned in his July 1 press conference that had Sam Gagner returned it would have been on the wing, it wasn’t hard to read between the lines there; Gagner had long-time difficulties with the defensive responsibilities of the position, and the Oilers had got sick of waiting for the mountain to go to Mohammed.

It goes without saying, of course, that it’s much more difficult to shelter a young centre when one of the other top-nine players at that position is the winner of a battle between Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander, which would likely be the case in a world where Draisaitl made the team (barring further additions by Edmonton, which will presumably come if at all possible).

Competition & Development

Dallas Eakins 2

Eakins hinted at the need for another addition at centre – a need MacTavish has already publicly recognized – with his comment on the essential nature of competition for an NHL roster spot.

“There needs to be competition,” the coach said. “We don’t want to be handing spots in an NHL lineup to players who haven’t earned it by default. They need to battle and the other thing is that they need to be ready. I think when you rush players in you’re setting them up for failure and we don’t want to do that.”

If, as expected, the Oilers add another established NHL centre, Draisaitl won’t make the team by default. In that scenario the Oilers will have three spots locked down, and just one open for the winner of a race between Draisaitl, Arcobello and Lander. It seems reasonable to think that one of that trio should be able to fill the role, particularly with Boyd Gordon given the heavy lifting in the defensive zone and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins taking the power-vs.-power assignment.

Eakins also acknowledged that he doesn’t believe in a hard-and-fast rule about when a player should make the NHL.

“There are great examples around the league of players who maybe should have been sent back to junior,” he said. “And there are lots of players out there who weren’t sent back to junior who have had unbelievable careers. In the end, all this gets settled at training camp; you can see as you get through those exhibition games and the spots that we put them in if they’re going to be ready or not.”

Darnell Nurse

It’s a decision the coach had to make last season with the Oilers’ seventh overall pick in 2013.

“Last year, Darnell [Nurse] wasn’t ready,” he noted. “It was a tough day for Darnell; I still remember it vividly, sending him back. These players are very young, they’re inexperienced, and we want to protect them right now.”

“At least we can give them a fair shake in training camp,” he added, emphasizing the same point that Robin Brownlee made on this site earlier today. “If they’re not ready they’ll go back and if they are ready they’ll stay; it’s as simple as that.”

The Oilers have already brought in enough NHL’ers to make the competition for a spot on defence fierce; really only one job exists for the trio of Nurse, Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom to grab, with Marincin the obvious favourite. It’s a similar story on the wings, where only one spot on the fourth line appears to be open for contest out of camp. One more NHL centreman would do the same for that position, and leave the Oilers in good shape heading into camp.

At that point, barring a significant injury, Draisaitl would have to fight extremely hard for a shot at an NHL job in 2014-15.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 Grant
July 04 2014, 02:23PM
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Unless he did not want to come to Edmonton ,I'm sure they could have gave him similar dollars

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#102 Hemmercules
July 04 2014, 02:35PM
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Grant wrote:

Unless he did not want to come to Edmonton ,I'm sure they could have gave him similar dollars

I'm actually shocked he went to Ottawa and for only 3 mil. I thought for sure he would get at least a 3 year deal at 4 mil from somebody. Mact could have had him but my guess is Edmonton was on his agents black list.

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#103 CamroseKid
July 04 2014, 02:44PM
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O'riely plays the EXACT game that the oilers need in a centerman. He's one of the most under rated centeres in the leauge. Grit,defense,and scoring. So responisble in his own end. He plays like perron. I'd go swap colorado 1st rounders any day. Heck, I'd even give up Musil and 4th rounder too for him.

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#104 GLS
July 04 2014, 02:45PM
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What if Nurse, Marincin, and Klefbom all look great and Ference is the worst performing defensemen on the team in training camp? Will Ference get cut?

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#105 Zarny
July 04 2014, 02:49PM
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@Hemmercules

Ryan Rishaug reported that interest from both sides was luke warm. Which makes sense.

Legwand will be 34 at the start of the season. He's in the twilight of his career so a 28th place team 2-3 years away from being competitive isn't the most attractive option. Especially when the team views you as a stop gap and a 3rd overall pick like Draisaitl is waiting to take your job.

For Edmonton, a 34 y/o stop gap C isn't ideal either. I think Legwand could have added value and he could have transitioned to 3C as Draisaitl matures but it's not ideal.

In terms of what Legwand signed for...he missed the dance. The big money goes out the door on day 1. Legwand and his agent showed up at 1am looking for a hot girl to take home but they were all taken.

It would be interesting to know if Legwand turned down better offers on day 1 holding out for more but ends up with less.

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#106 Hemmercules
July 04 2014, 03:00PM
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Zarny wrote:

@Hemmercules

Ryan Rishaug reported that interest from both sides was luke warm. Which makes sense.

Legwand will be 34 at the start of the season. He's in the twilight of his career so a 28th place team 2-3 years away from being competitive isn't the most attractive option. Especially when the team views you as a stop gap and a 3rd overall pick like Draisaitl is waiting to take your job.

For Edmonton, a 34 y/o stop gap C isn't ideal either. I think Legwand could have added value and he could have transitioned to 3C as Draisaitl matures but it's not ideal.

In terms of what Legwand signed for...he missed the dance. The big money goes out the door on day 1. Legwand and his agent showed up at 1am looking for a hot girl to take home but they were all taken.

It would be interesting to know if Legwand turned down better offers on day 1 holding out for more but ends up with less.

Good points. I think its just Ottawa that has me surprised, I don't see them contending in the new 2 years either. 2 years in ottawa for 6 mil or 2 years in eddy for 8 mil doesn't sound too different to me at this point.

He missed the dance for sure. Gotta sign those day 1 deals to get the real money lol.

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#107 Grant
July 04 2014, 07:02PM
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CamroseKid wrote:

O'riely plays the EXACT game that the oilers need in a centerman. He's one of the most under rated centeres in the leauge. Grit,defense,and scoring. So responisble in his own end. He plays like perron. I'd go swap colorado 1st rounders any day. Heck, I'd even give up Musil and 4th rounder too for him.

I'd would be great to get oreily but how does he fit into the cap space ? We would be more able to lose a defenseman than lose a forward. We need to add goals not take goals away from our forward positions . I think we were 28th in goals for last year. But still people around the league think we have an abundance of sharpshooters

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#108 Grant
July 04 2014, 10:04PM
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GLS wrote:

What if Nurse, Marincin, and Klefbom all look great and Ference is the worst performing defensemen on the team in training camp? Will Ference get cut?

He would not get cut but would definitely lose minutes. I don't think they would by him out. That would just send a message that we are just gonna rush our young guys. I think they are committed to let these guys grow properly.

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