September 03 2014 11:54AM
It’s been obvious for some time now the Edmonton Oilers intend to start training camp, and likely the 2014-15 season, with rookie Leon Draisaitl sitting in one of the top three positions on the team depth chart at centre.
Some people have a problem with that and raise some reasonable arguments as to why. Why rush the kid? Why burn a year of Draisaitl’s entry level deal when the team isn’t going to contend this season? I know fellow writers at ON like Jason Strudwick and Brian Sutherby, both former NHL players, lean that way. So does Jason Gregor.
Me? I’ve maintained Draisaitl deserves an opportunity to land a job if the decision is based on merit. If Draisaitl clearly isn’t in over his head at camp, during pre-season and in the first nine games of regular season -- before a year of his deal is used -- he should stay. My biggest misgiving is that GM Craig MacTavish hasn’t added another proven centre to protect Draisaitl behind RyanNugent-Hopkins.
Bruce McCurdy of the Cult of Hockey over at The Edmonton Journal framed the Draisaitl situation in another way today, and it’s tough to argue with his take. You’ll find that here. Simply put, McCurdy points out that, based on recent history, we shouldn’t be surprised if Draisaitl plays this season in the NHL and we shouldn’t be surprised if he does very well.
ON THE HEELS OF RNH
In simple terms, and narrowing McCurdy’s broad look at top draft choices down to a straight comparison with Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl is bigger and stronger, at just over six-foot-one and about 215 pounds, than RNH was – just over six feet and about 180 pounds – when he reported to his first camp with the Oilers in 2011.
Draisaitl is also older, and considerably so in the context of players in their draft year. Draisaitl was 18 years and 323 days old on draft day, while RNH was 18 years and 156 days, or almost six months younger. Draisaitl turns 19 on October 27, about two weeks into this coming season.
Just as important, maybe more so, as Draisaitl being older and bigger than RNH as camp approaches is that he’s coming off a junior season in which he was marginally more productive with Prince Albert of the WHL than RNH was in his final campaign with Red Deer. Draisaitl produced at a rate of 1.64 points-per-game with the Raiders with 105 points in 64 games. RNH came in at 1.54 PPG on 106 points in 69 games.
As an NHL rookie, RNH produced 18-34-52 in 62 games with the Oilers. While I don’t see Draisaitl being as productive as rookie, in fact I’d bet the farm against it, he will add much-needed size. Production, of course, will depend on how he’s used and who he’s used with.
While we’ll have to wait to see how that plays out, recent history tells us that, regardless of whether you’re in the send-him-back crowd or the wait-and-see contingent, we shouldn’t be surprised when Draisaitl starts the season with the Oilers.
WHILE I’M AT IT
While I’d like to see a puck distributor like Draisaitl get a look alongside a shoot-first finisher like Nail Yakupov, I see way too much defensive peril in that combination, even with Benoit Pouliot as the other winger.
The safest bet, at least on paper, would seem to be Draisaitl between Teddy Purcell and David Perron, although we won’t know until the puck hits the freeze how what works on paper translates to productivity and chemistry out on the ice.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.