Leon Draisaitl should be returned to Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League this season.
This is not a popular idea among Edmonton Oilers media and fans, but I believe he should not be in the Oilers lineup next season.
The past two drafts the Oilers have drafted exactly the guys I would have if I had been in charge. Draisaitl and Nurse are the types of players the Oilers are missing in the system and on the big team. They are big and can move well on the ice. I want to be clear that I like the Draisaitl draft choice before I explain why he should not be on the team for the upcoming season.
Let me make my case.
No. 1: Line mates
Who would be the perfect two wingers for Draisaitl if he were to play in the NHL next year? I have heard many Oiler fans and members of the media suggest that he could play with wingers that would protect him while he learns the game? WOW! That is a unique statement.
How exactly does a winger protect his centre? He could help him by taking the draws. He could always be the first man back in the D zone to support the D down low in the corners and the front of the net. So what does that leave exactly for the “protected” centre to do? There is only one answer to that question…. BE A WINGER!
It doesn’t work like that. There are times in a game where a winger will take draws and be the first man back in the D zone. A winger will even end up in the middle on the attacking rush; but not every shift, game in and game out.
Draisaitl cannot be protected by linemates on every shift and in every situation.
I do think that there could be great chemistry between Leon and Yak. Leon is a big guy that can hold on to the puck below the goal line while Yak finds a quiet spot in the slot. Everyone is watching Leon, Yak gets lost in the shuffle and a quick pass to Yak. BOOM. Goal. Think Getzlaf and Perry.
That is in the future. Not this upcoming year. The thought of having Yak and Leon on the same line at this point in their NHL development should make Dallas Eakins very uncomfortable. They are not ready for it and the rest of the NHL would be ready for them. Two or three years from now I hope that is a great duo that can support Nuge’s line with goals. That time is not now.
No. 2: Center Depth
Nuge, Gordon, Arcobello and Lander. Throw Leon into this group and we are looking at the top five centres most likely to start the season with the Oilers. Of the four outside of Leon which ones will play the other team’s top lines?
Nuge is trending in the right direction. I saw a lot of two-way awareness out of him last season. He was often in the right place but would lose the battle because he was outmuscled. I think a full summer of working out will be huge for him. He will start to win his fair share of those one-on-one battles that lead to goals for and against.
At this point in his development he is not a player that can carve up those hard minutes against top competition on a nightly basis. He needs a little of experience and strength to get to that place. He will play many of those minutes this season but I don’t see him as a guy that shelters Leon this upcoming year.
Gordon was good for the Oilers last year. I always liked his game but as I wrote last season a championship team will have Gordon as their fourth line centre. That is the depth required to win. He can take those defensive zone draws all night for Leon but at what cost? Leon’s ice time will be less especially on the road. Gordon’s ice time will go up.
Arco and Lander are wild cards. Can these two hold down NHL spots this year? These are not legit NHL guys yet so they aren’t protecting anyone. They are working on their own games and can’t carry a rookie’s harder ice time for a season.
No. 3: Coaching
The Oilers have changed some of their coaching staff. The overall plan will be the same with Eakins at the helm for year two but the delivery may change with Ramsey in the mix. This is a team bringing in many new players into the lineup and trying to refine the play of many already in the lineup.
There are so many things for this coaching staff to work on…implementing a system…finding and creating chemistry between new and old players… fine tuning the power play…defensive zone play, etc. They are going to be very busy. Will there be time to spend with a young second line centre to guide him through his first NHL season in a challenging conference?
No. 4: Confidence
In my experience confidence is the most important part of a young, highly skilled player’s development that must be protected and nurtured. Confidence takes time to build and can be lost in one bad game. I see Leon as a big part of what the Oilers hope to be in the future. His growth as a player needs to have the firm backing of confidence. Can it be guaranteed that his confidence will not suffer in his first NHL season with the three points I have listed above?
I am willing to be Mr. Unpopular when it comes to Leon. I see no real rush to get him into the NHL this season. Another year of junior, world juniors, WHL playoff and world championship would serve him just fine. Another year to get stronger and more mature as a player. I have yet to see the hockey player that is ruined because of an extra year in junior.
That being said I think he will be in the Oilers’ lineup this season due to the lack of other options. He is a very skilled and smart player, so he will make some incredible plays that will make you jump out of your seats; skilled players always do. But is it the best for his complete game long term? I don’t think so.
Keep this in mind: just because Leon is the best option for the Oilers at the second line centre position doesn’t mean it is the best option for him and the organization moving forward.