Leon Draisaitl: The offence is ready, the defence a work in progress

Draisaitl, Leon

The Oilers’ lopsided 5-0 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday featured a lovely combination of an inept offence and porous defence, but there were some exceptions to those trends.

One of them was rookie forward Leon Draisaitl, whose defensive game could have been better but who looked far, far better than the scoring wingers on his line when he entered the offensive zone.

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Shift by Shift


The following are my shift-by-shift notes for Draisaitl against Chicago, and the one item that really stands out is his playmaking vision – again and again the young German set his linemates up with lovely feeds that they couldn’t quite cash:

  • Shift 1. Went to the net following a Nail Yakupov shot on his very first shift; there was no rebound… there was a man in the slot behind him in the defensive zone that neither he nor the defence seemed aware of; he did get over there to fight for the puck when it went in that direction, though… nicely carried the puck into the corner and behind his own net under pressure before making a short pass…
  • Shift 2. retrieved the puck in the corner on the power play… took a one-time shot that missed the net and rang around the boards and out of the zone… carried the puck in despite pressure, skated around behind the Chicago net and fed a pass out front that hopped past David Perron…
  • Shift 3. camped out in front of the net, redirected a Perron shot just wide… took a neutral zone pass and tried to skate through two Blackhawks into the offensive zone but had the puck knocked loose…
  • Shift 4. won an offensive zone draw on the power play but Teddy Purcell couldn’t hold the line… into the corner after the puck in a battle the Oilers won…
  • Shift 5. intercepted a puck in the neutral zone but promptly gave it back… went into the corner and won the puck against two Blackhawks in the defensive zone; Perron gave it right back… back in the corner fighting for the puck along with both of his defencemen; followed the puck out to the point rather than going to the front of the net, where Bryan Bickell was all alone and tipped the puck home for a 1-0 Chicago lead…
  • Shift 6. won a defensive zone draw… fought for and gained the puck on the sideboards after it was given away… went high to cover for a pinching Andrew Ference… went to the corner in the defensive zone and won a battle for the puck; made a sharp pass…
  • Shift 7 (Second period). Lost a defensive zone draw… stole the puck out of a battle featuring two Blackhawks and two Oilers but lost it to enemy action a fraction of a second later… engaged with his check in the defensive zone but couldn’t push him off the puck…
  • Shift 8. slow to get back to his own end when the puck left the offensive zone… gained the blue line and dumped the puck in…
  • Shift 9. …
  • Shift 10. won a defensive zone draw… took a pass in the slot on the power play; he couldn’t get a shot away but batted it right back to Purcell on the sideboards instead… made a really nice pass to Yakupov, who put a dangerous shot off the goalie’s pads…
  • Shift 11. won an offensive zone draw on the power play… bad shot/pass blocked and cleared by Chicago…
  • Shift 12. …
  • Shift 13 (Third period). Won a neutral zone draw…
  • Shift 14. couldn’t handle a defensive zone pass from Yakupov… gained the puck at centre but had to settle for chipping it in after running into Jeremy Morin…
  • Shift 15. gained the zone nicely and made a sharp cross-ice pass to Perron, who couldn’t handle it… cycled back to Yakupov, who couldn’t handle the puck either…
  • Shift 16. went to the corner in the defensive zone and landed a hit after no other Oiler showed the inclination to go get the puck… got the puck in the corner again and passed it to the opposite corner, where Yakupov should have been but wasn’t… covered in the slot for Jordan Oesterle, who had moved out of it…
  • Shift 17. he had good positioning n the defensive zone, covering the front of the net as the Oilers’ two defenders fought for the puck just behind it… made a really nice setup to Yakupov, who had a dangerous shot…
  • Shift 18. gorgeous offensive zone setup for Perron, who whiffed on the play…
  • Shift 19. carried the puck out of the defensive zone, into the offensive zone and made a decent pass… lost an offensive zone draw.

The Short Version


Linemates mean a lot in hockey, and Draisaitl was set up to succeed in that regard with David Perron and Nail Yakupov, two guys with NHL experience and who have significant goal-scoring ability. It didn’t matter; the centre kept setting them up and (with the exception of a couple of nice Yakupov shots) not much came of his excellent work.

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It’s an interesting potential line combination, and Yakupov and Draisaitl had reasonable chemistry in the offensive zone. In the defensive zone, Draisaitl played like a guy who won’t turn 19 for a month, and that’s a concern, particularly if he’s playing with Yakupov; he’s big and strong enough but he lacks the polish of a guy like Arcobello. Interestingly, head coach Dallas Eakins singled Yakupov’s responsible play out for praise in his postgame comments. The two guys complement each other nicely in a lot of ways but it will take some guts to keep that duo together in the regular season when every opposing line is filled with legitimate NHL’ers.

Wherever he slots into the lineup, there doesn’t seem to be much question that Draisaitl will make the team on opening night. The state of the depth chart means there was a job available to lose; he hasn’t come close to doing that and probably improved his standing with his work against the Blackhawks.


  • D

    If the Oil run this line for the regular season, they simply have to score. Defensive weakness on a particular line is okay if they can make it up with pure offense on the other end.

    • Dan 1919

      Contrary to your NHL 15 game plan, Draisaitl and Yakupov will spend hours in their own zone by the end of the season. Maybe if it was Crosby, Malkin, and Sakic on a line we could hypothesize about them not needing to know how to play in their own zone.

      This is the NHL, if they can’t hack it in their own zone, it will be ugly, period.

      If you don’t beleive me go to NHL.com and see where the Oilers have placed for the last 8 years.

      Draisaitl is showing flashes of brilliance, with his huge frame and skillset, he will be a long term C for the Oilers. Unfortunately his game is still far from polished and at this point Yakimov has shown more to be NHL ready. Things could change for both Yak2 and Draisaitl once they face NHL competition, but as of right now and if they are actually trying to build a team that has a slight chance of being competetive, the first nod should go to Yak for a roster spot.

  • Dan 1919

    Just posted this on a earlier article but more relevant here..

    We need to be so much more patient with Draisaitl. I think a good comparable is James van Riemsdyk. Similar sized centre’s, van Riemsdyk was second overall in 1997. First year after draft he went back to college, second year back to college then a few games in AHL at end of the second year. Then NHL in his third year – 35 points, 40 points in year 4 after the draft, lockout and injury year then finally in his 7th year after being drafted, last year he get 61 points with 30 goals.

    Only our Oilers pencil the fresh draft kid in for 2nd line centre and 50 points. We need to get a centre from one of the cap crunched teams, Arco and Lander and Yakimov as just band aids please… Send Draisaitl to Sweden. He won’t be the player we need him to be for another 3-6 years.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Feel Yakimov has clearly been better than Draisaitl this pre-season. When will the media types start noticing and push this issue as well.

    That 2nd line center position was basically served up to Leon on a silver platter this fall. He hasn’t exactly shown he’s the most capable center in camp who deserves that shot at that position. If anyone has shown he’s not quite ready for it, it’s Leon Draisaitl.

    Give the kid who’s a year older and 3 inches taller a shot at that position for the first month of the season.

    • I agree. Yakimov has a step on Leon at this point. If he keeps improving, Leon should go back to junior. There is nothing wrong with that, it won’t be the end of the world. I really believe Yakimov can do it.

      • Wax Man Riley

        The issue here is how people “overvalue” pre-season. First off let me say that I agree in that Yakimov has impressed me more than Drasaitl so far production wise. However, like Willis has also pointed out, there is plenty to like in what Leon has been doing as well.

        The problem with thinking one way, or another on who should be centring lines come regular season and who should be sent down is that neither player has really been tested at the NHL level yet. I’m sure many of us remember Jesse Joensu’s play in the pre-season and how many were salivating over finally having a big body that could hopefully chip in, in a top 9 role… we all know that wasn’t the case.

        That’s why I would be more hesitant to start Yakimov over Drasaitl. This is a guy who has barely played the North American game. Come regular season when other teams are skating to their fastest and playing way more physical I doubt we will see the same kind of production.

        Drasaitl has the knowledge of the North American game, and his skillset seems much more ready to step into the NHL (passing ability, and on ice vision) I would still prefer to obviously have a more veteran centre and to let both develop at a safer level but between the two I would have to pick Leon.

        • Yakimov has shown more of a 2-way game than Leon. I like Leon, you can see he will be a great player but as many people have mentioned his D game will need to improve for the NHL. I wish they would have picked up a center as well (still hoping for waiver wire). If it was to be decided today, Yakimov makes it.

          • Wax Man Riley

            If Yakimov is truly the better player by coaches and managers eye, then he’ll make it. Since he likely isn’t then perhaps how fans evaluate players in pre season is a bit different than the coaching staff.

            I’m not sure where you’re seeing a better defensive game from Yakimov. I also think us as Oiler fans are reading too much into pre season play (see Joensuu last year).

            I am mighty high on Yakimov, but I just don’t think his hockey iq is on Draisaitl’s level yet. Especially because this is his first time playing in North America.

            From what I’ve seen, every time the puck is on Draisaitl’s stick he’s making a play. Though Yakimov has demonstrated the occasional offensive flair, it hasn’t been as consistent as it has with Draisaitl. Add to that he’s done this now on a Poulliout Perron line, and a Yak Perron line. Yakimov has really only generated offense with Tkachev so far.

            I firmly believe 2015 starting roster will be Nuge, Draisaitl, Yakimov, Gordon down the middle. Which likely is making Mac T reluctant to go out and do something like trade a valuable asset for a piece he just needs to develop internally.

            I see what you’re saying int that there has been more offensive output so far from Yak 2, but it’s preseason so the coaches are likely looking for more important variables which they know will carry over to NHL, than they are for preseason production.

          • I’m not just looking at the offensive, it is the complete gameplay. Leon has the higher hockey IQ obviously (he should he was drafted 3rd overall). I’m sure Leon will be the better player in the long run. I’m just saying, if the roster was decided today it would benefit the team more to have a 2-way player in the middle instead of mostly offense and struggles defensively.

            By the end of camp, Leon could get to another level and this conversion would be pointless.

          • Wax Man Riley

            Ya but then we wouldn’t get to endlessly debate stuff like this. As an Oiler fan, this is all I have right now. So hopefully this conversation is not pointless.

            As for who is better defensively, I haven’t exactly seen defensive brilliance from either of these guys. I mean they’re still just kids so that’s to be expected I guess. The plan clearly seems to shelter whichever guy makes it. Either by insulating them with vet wingers that push possession, or by giving them softer competition and less minutes.

            Last night’s game is a bit difficult to evaluate since after Ference went down, it was basically up to Schultz and Marincin. I think that lead to everyone looking bad defensively.

            Did you notice any particular lapses in Drai’s game? Could the iced defence have lead to more mistakes since the forwards had to work harder?

            On a full roster, do you think there will be enough defensive help that Draisaitl’s elite passing and possession becomes more important than his two way ability?

          • Will, great points.

            I think Crosby would of had issues with our D group last night. Up to this point, Leon has been more protected by playing with top 6 players. Yak2 is usually playing with junior or AHL players. It would be great to see Yak2 play with top 6 players and see how much better he would be, maybe he would choke under pressure?

            To be certain, we need to see both play a few games in the season to be sure which guy needs to stay.

          • I also have been dying to see Yakimov with some premier players. I suppose though if the organization is already going to give the job to Drai, then they might as well spend every game determining who he’s going to play best with.

      • Dan 1919

        Drasisaitl is not going back to junior. Can everyone please stop saying another year would do him good, or no harm in sending him back. He has said he’s going to Europe. A year in the NHL will be better for his development than a year in Europe. But it’s a moot point anyway. As Willis points out, he’s already penciled in.

        As for Yakimov over Draisaitl, they seem like two completely different players. One is a shoot first power forward with great hands, lacking in speed though. The other is a pure playmaker that uses his size rather than hands to protect the puck.

        Given the player types Draisaitl will be paired up with, a playmaker who can protect the puck seems like a better fit.

        However, I don’t think it will be long before Yakimov makes his debut as a 3rd line C.

  • D

    From what I’ve seen so far I think a Pouliout-Drasaitl-Yakupov line might be a good combination. Arcobello has really done nothing for me yet. MacT’s biggest test will come after the first 10-15 games. If it looks like we can’t survive the season without a new centre, does he trade away the future for one now?

    • TS

      No one’s saying he “must” return. Only that he probably should return to junior. Funny how all of the pre-camp voices crying to “give him a chance to earn a spot before writing him off” have seemingly changed to “he’s got some real holes in his game, but let’s keep him anyway ’cause he can chip in a few points”. Best for all concerned probably to send him down, based on what we’ve seen so far.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I do not see an increase in scoring so far with Draisaitl , Arco and Landers at center along with T.Purcell on RW trying to replace even Horcoff , Gagner and Hemsky scoring . Draisaitl has got to start scoring , not just passing, and find linemates he fits in with if he hopes to remain on squad this year . No sense wasting a years eligibility if he not producing enough offensively . Not much else is bringing much offense so far , although Yakimov has shown some consistency at both ends of ice .

    Annoying our club has had basically 6 months rest between seasons and still comes up with an effort like last night . I thought they were supposed to be in great shape to start . Maybe they (most of them ) lost more than they gained by not playing competitive hockey for 1/2 year .

    Coachimg doesn’t show any improvement so far and sometimes game excuses sound like they rhink they are running a kindergarden with the youngsters .Whatever , they (players ) seem reluctant to respond to game plan .

    • O.C.

      On the contrary , and thank goodness it was preseason and not regular season. It makes it easier to assess under adversity of Ference being out of lineup – defensively and how the offence also handled it or mishandled it . We are talking a last place team here that needs to show vast improvement in all aspects of the game in order just to get out of basement . Preseason is a good precursor to what regular season may become if much more improvement is not forthcoming . Excellent game to assess what this club does not need and their adaptability to adversity .

      • TS

        True, maybe, if there were more than 5-6 players out there who will be in the roster opening night. What exactly you were evaluating with that lineup is a mystery to me, though.

    • Wax Man Riley

      I’m not usually one to be a negative nancy. I like to leave that to Gord and Spyder and Quicks, but Yak is my goat and he seriously hasn’t shown a thing to suggest he’s much more than Sam Gagner on the wing. He doesn’t have hands, he’s not a great skater, not good defensively, so far seems uncoachable and unable to adapt. Am I missing something here?

      I hear a lot of comments about how he’s going to score 30 or 40, but why? Honest question. What has he shown to prove he’ll score in the NHL?

  • Dan 1919

    I am usually skeptical of Willis’ analysis of the Oil. He seems to be wildly optimistic when it comes to evaluating players. His constant theme of Landner showing NHL form in the AHL is a case in point. Stating that the “Offense is Ready” based on a few games vs rookies, U of A and teams with less than 1/2 NHLers on it seems ill founded.

    I have never seen LD play and have no opinion on his ability to play in the NHL, other than it is very difficult for an 18 year old to compete effectively in the NHL. I think Willis’ is jumping to a conclusion.

  • O.C.

    It seems to me that many fans have lost perspective on what a team tries to achieve during early pre-season games. The idea, as I understand it, is to try various combinations, give prospects ice time and basically experiment.

    It almost seems that fans expect players to be in mid season form with all lines set and the team totally focused on winning. Please be patient. We have no clear idea what MacT and Eakins are thinking relative to the starting line up and who will be kept or sent down.

    Plenty of time to panic once the season starts.

  • TS

    I’m tired of Lander. He’s been given so many chances and just can’t produce. It’s like he’s a quarter of a step behind everybody.

    Bogdan Yakimov has been much more impressive and I see him taking the 3rd line centre spot away from Arco and Lander in a heartbeat this year.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Yakupov and rookie C Draisaitl on same line? Sure they could be sheltered at home. But on the road that line will get eaten alive when we don’t have last change.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Eakins has enough depth on the wings to allow for line alterations game to game, without too much chemistry destruction.

      For example, say he keeps Perron and Drai together, and Arco and Purcell together. All he does then is switches where Puolliot and Yak plays depending on if he needs a more balanced approach because he doesn’t get last change.

  • Comments today from Oiler site confirm Arco and Landers not shoe ins to make club . Draisaitl and Yakimov appear to be passing both of them so far . Khaira and Ewanyk are still pressing for a spot and tonight game could be a boom or bust game for them .

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Remember that time in 2010. We all got really excited about the offensive potential a young swede had. He scored a hat trick in his first pre-season. Wow had a 6’3″ frame. 210 lbs. How could we miss with this “kid”.

    Magnum Magnus Paajarvi. Good olé MPS.

    Please curb your expectations. It’s only preseason.