It’s time to end Leon Draisaitl’s NHL experience

Draisaitl, Leon

Leon Draisaitl is a superb prospect. Big, smart and skilled, it’s easy to see why Edmonton keyed in on him at the 2014 Draft.

It’s equally clear that right now that he’s really struggling in the NHL.

The Problem

Dallas Eakins 7

Draisaitl is a “centre” but he’s not doing the things an NHL centre is expected to do. Yes, he’s taking faceoffs. But when the Oilers pressure in the offensive zone, Draisaitl is (virtually every time) in on the forecheck while one of his wingers peels back to play the role of high forward. When a defenceman pinched last night, it was David Perron or Teddy Purcell peeling back to cover, not Draisaitl. In previous games, it’s been Nail Yakupov or Benoit Pouliot doing that job.

Head coach Dallas Eakins, when asked earlier this year about whether the combination of Draisaitl and Yakupov was too risky defensively, emphasized that Yakupov was going to be counted on to help Draisaitl out. He wasn’t just saying that to say it; it was an honest reflection of a game plan that would see Draisaitl’s wingers play the high forward role.

It’s a defensible position – Draisaitl is still getting defensive zone positioning down (watching Tampa Bay’s goals from last night, including the disallowed one, reflect this nicely) so he’s not a guy the team wants defending and he’s also not up to NHL speed yet so having him cover for a pinching defenceman injects risk into the equation. But it’s also a problem, because Draisaitl’s not a north/south winger with wheels; he’s a cerebral centre whose best gift is his brain rather than his feet. Not only that, but guys like Yakupov and Perron and Draisatil are built to forecheck; they’re very effective at it (as Yakupov showed on the Oilers’ first goal against the Lightning).

What ends up happening isn’t good. A good forechecker is asked to play a role that perhaps isn’t his strong suit. A playmaking pivot is asked to play a role that certainly isn’t his strong suit. The whole line ends up operating differently than the other three, making mixing and matching more difficult.

And there’s an easy way out of it. Draisaitl isn’t up to handling the responsibilities of an NHL centre at this time. He’ll get there, but he’s not there yet; more development is needed. There are whole leagues devoted to player development – including the WHL where Draisaitl played last year. The NHL is not one of those leagues, and the Oilers tend to get burned when they act like it is.

“He’s Got Nothing Left to Learn in Junior”

89-Gagner-7

I don’t know who started this line of thought, but it’s one that’s been making the rounds in Edmonton for at least a decade. It should die.

I remember the strong arguments that Sam Gagner needed to be given an NHL roster spot at 18 because he couldn’t be put in the AHL and he had done all he could do at the junior level. I remember excitement that Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton and Ryan Martindale were going to make the jump to the AHL early, where they would be under the team’s control. People are always in a hurry to advance prospects to the next level, where they’ll hone their skills against the highest possible competition.

The problem is that competition can be awfully good. There’s a narrative out there that the Barons sat the trio of aforementioned draft picks to play veterans. There’s some truth in it – like all AHL teams, Oklahoma had some older guys (Ryan Keller, Josh Green) to lead the way up front. But the reality is that some of the nobodies who play (Mark Arcobello was one) become NHL prospects. Further, older prospects a little further along in their development – Magnus Paajarvi, Teemu Hartikainen, Linus Omark, Phil Cornet – got prime minutes because not only were they better players at the time but because they needed to develop too. Advancing a player before he can legitimately hold down minutes against real competition is a disservice to everyone.

And what about the guys who go back to junior? Jordan Eberle had a great training camp in 2009; the pucks didn’t go in for him but by eye he was brilliant. The best thing Pat Quinn ever did for the Oilers was send him down – he went back to the WHL, tore it up and starred for Canada at the World Juniors. He made the team the next year and was ready to play at a high level immediately. More recently, Darnell Nurse made massive strides from age 18 to age 19 in the OHL; he was better in pretty much every facet of the game in training camp this fall than he was last fall.

Draisaitl’s development is the most important thing now. And that development will be best served at a level other than the NHL, where the Oilers should be focused entirely on trying to win games rather than worrying about riding herd for the team’s latest project.

Who Plays Centre?

Anton Lander

The Oilers don’t have great options down the middle, but at this point the player’s development should be the priority. For me, that means even a guy like Anton Lander at the centre of one the third scoring line is preferable to keeping Draisaitl in town; Lander’s not a good fit but at least the wingers on his line will be able to play their positions.

A better option is a cheap trade for a warm body. It could be a fill-in player, like Kyle Brodziak out of Minnesota or Chris Kelly out of Boston. It could be a move for a younger player caught in a numbers game elsewhere, like Joakim Andersson in Detroit. Lander’s been given his chances, including in camp this year, and if the Oilers can get a bona fide lower level NHL player instead for not much that’s a better route.

The best option of all is to add a real No. 2/3 centre, a guy who at a minimum falls into the Artem Anisimov or Patrik Berglund mold. That’s doubtless going to be costly and it might not even be possible, but the benefits would be enormous. Mark Arcobello would shift down to centre the third scoring line and would suddenly be the guy getting the offensive zone sheltering; there’s little doubt he can produce in those minutes. Dallas Eakins would have a second line he could count on to do a variety of things. Nail Yakupov, who is doing a lot right, might even really take off when paired with a strong NHL pivot.

All three options beat throwing an 18-year-old into minutes he is not yet ready for.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Wax Man Riley

    Even when Crosby came in as an 18 year old he scored 102 pts!!! He made a difference.*

    Mario Lemieux scored 100 pts his 1st year and 140 his 2nd! He made a difference!**

    They absolutely dominated jr. Dominated! So they obviously helped their teams move up the standings as rookies.

    *Penguins won 22 games that year and finished 2nd last(?)

    **Pens won 24 games that year 2nd last in the league, 34 and 2nd last in division.

  • Oilers Coffey

    Win and win now. It is time to make a push, or face Hall or Ebs asking for a trade. Spezza route.
    The Oilers need a #2 C that can play. Then when LD is ready it’s better for the entire team to have tougher competition for jobs. Imagine having depth at C.
    Schenn or Anisimov might be it but it’ll mean giving up a few key prospects.

    • oilerjed

      Don’t be embarrassed to be an Oilers fan they cant suck forever and I remember many good years of not sucking but Klowe should sure as hell be embarrassed. IF Katz ever does the right thing and axe this clown there is noway he ever works in hockey again. Its crap like this that keeps us from signing many players and coaches. Small fraternity and reputations stick for a very long time. Im hoping that Katz will come to his senses soon, the new shack will need to be filled and a shiny new arena cant save his ticket base if this team keeps adding to it’s already stellar rep.

    • BlazingSaitls

      *Edited. I made a drunk post. I removed it. The just of it was Renney is a pompous ass.

      If he had the courage of his convictions he would of quit if it was really that bad. All he is doing is passing the buck while trying to land a head coach job at the Oilers expense.

      What team wants a coach who undermines a NHL team years after dismissal? What team wants a coach who willingly gets pushed around by ‘management’ until he’s fired. It appears to me Renney was a ‘yes’ man until he got fired. Just like all ‘yes’ men should be…fired!

  • Rumpelstiltskin

    It’s obvious LD is the kind of beef the oil desperately needs at center, but he’s still only 18. Am I the only one that sees him getting injured like the rest of the kids we’ve rushed? Then he’s no good to anybody.

    I’d rather it be smaller junior players hitting him, than big goobers like Regehr… just ask Hemsky!

    Send him back before it’s too late!

  • Serious Gord

    There are a number of Oilers with horrific +/- stats to start the year, and players that are snake bitten. I do not disagree with sending him out of the NHL, but to me, the only way this happens is if a player better than he is right now comes back. We can’t downgrade at this point in time. It will not be easy to get someone. Lastly, there are 3 very important games left for him, and I really do not think the answer to the question of sending him packing should be set in stone. Sure, lean all you want to one side, but he needs to play the games, and we need him to, at least the way the roster stands today.

    Draisaitl has almost been playing not to make mistakes. I believe, if he is intuitive enough to sense or suspect he is going to be cut for the year, he will play a little bit differently, and hopefully, we can see him play in this league with a looser demeanour for a game or two, because he seems uptight and intimidated at times.

    Either way, best of luck to him! He is a great prospect.

  • BlazingSaitls

    Sending Draisaitl back to juniors is the smart and prudent thing to do. He got a taste of the NHL and it will give him time to further develop his skating, overall game and give him time to mature not only as a player but as a person. Unfortunately he was drafted by a desperate oiler team that put all their eggs into his basket. He’s going to endure a hard year playing for one of the worst teams in the NHL. It’s going to be hard, filled with dissapointment and misery. Hopefully he can come out on the other end with his head still up.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    It pretty sad when a team is 6 games into the season and already talking about the entry draft next year. Is A Mcdavid or Eichel really going to pull you guys out of the gutters? I think not. The whole culture has to change where you stop breading loosers and teaching young kids that loosing is OK because we will just draft someone really good next year. Take a life check boys

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      How could there be sooo many trolls on here! Still baffles me that these ppl have nothing else to do in life, but to go on Oilers websites. Wow! What a bunch of, “loosers” Ahaha.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I think it is crazy you guys talking about a trade. Yakapov’s stock will be higher after this year. He is playing much much better. I really see potential in him now. Our defense is the best it has been in years. Leave it alone. When Nurse makes the team, maybe move someone (Ference).

    The only thing we should be trading is our first round pick and maybe another prospect for the best center available if we send down Draisaitl, and I am not sold that it is the best thing to do. He can learn at the NHL level as well as he can in Juniors.

    I am sure a lot of people would jump to get a first round pick from the Oilers… I bet most expect us to be in the bottom 5 again.

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      What would be the point of that? I think the best thing the Oilers can do right now is stay the course. We are not making a cup run this year. Perron scored 28 goals last year, and now you want to trade him?

      Just hang on, at least to the end of this home stand. But since we are not making a cup run this year, I don’t see the urgency to pull the trigger on any trade at this point. We will show improvement this year in the standings, with the team we have now, I am sure of that. The time to make a deal is close to the trade deadline, if needed. Guys like Petry, Perron and others will fetch a far bigger reward as teams are trying to add the final piece to make their cup run.

      Also TSN’s new look website is crap!!!!!!!

      • JDP

        Well how else are we going to get what we need? We are definitely not finishing last this year so mc david is a pipe dream. We need a centre…..especially after they send Leon down.

        • At what price though. Perron is too expensive for short term solution. As others have mentioned, in a years time we may have 2 big centers ready for the show plus Arcobello, we have good wingers, but after what we have in the lineup, the quality drops off quite a bit.

          If we make do this year, we keep all our D, and our wingers, and I am sure the center position will sure itself up.

          As I said, we are not in a position to make a cup run this year.

          The best thing we could trade at this point is our first round pick, and a prospect or 2.

          First rounder + Klefbom -> Arizona for Vermette? Then we have the french Line.

          Pouliot, Perron and Vermette…. you know it makes sense.

          • I agree that making a trade could upgrade the team long-term…..however, a 2015 1st rnder AND Klefbom for Vermette?…….yikes, that is a Tambellini type trade

            unless you are joking, which i hope you are, that is craziness…..you said yourself the Oil aren’t in a position for a cup run this year, so why propose a trade for a 32 yr old declining asset and pending UFA

            also, i agree TSN’s new look site is crap…

          • Ok, maybe not the best example. But I would not hesitate on trading away our 1st round pick for a guy to fill in 1-3 years in that center position.

            How about a package deal including our first round pick for Brayden Shenn, Backlund, Andrew Shaw?

            The oilers have enough prospects, I think one year without a first rounder hurts the team less then giving away a proven scorer in the NHL, like Perron.

            If in a years time, we find we have too many centers (and big ones), I doubt they would be hard to trade away and get good return on them.

          • Serious Gord

            Why would you trade your first round pick when we are currently trending at choosing Eichel or MacDavid ? Are the players you want of that caliber in the future ? I doubt it , and first round this year will definitely be off the table unless we trend a big trend upwards from where we are now .

          • First off , there is not a GM in the NHL that would give up Eichel or MacDavid for Galchenyuk . No chance we would bother either . Throw in Pacioretti with Galchenuk and two first rounders you might get someone to bite , that’s how valueable this years draft is . Trading the draft will get you far more than just a Galchenyuk .

          • Do you have any idea how big a failure it would be to trade Galchenyuk for Eichel or MacDavid , when we are already near the bottom ? I doubt you do . These two kids will probably fetch close to Lindros type returns in a trade if they continue to dominate like they have . Set your standards much higher than Galchenyuk . Your trade is planning on failure , make no mistake about it .

          • Are you saying that Galchenyuk right now is better than McDavid in the future? Are you saying that you wouldn’t want Crosby or Malkin or Stamkos or Tavares because you have Galchenyuk???

  • Excerpt from Renney’s comments yesterday:

    “In Edmonton, they wanted me to give more ice time to our young players, who had undergone surgery. I reduced their ice time. But (the thinking) was we had to play them more because they were very good and (the Oilers) were selling hope.”

    So, if I am reading this right, the Oilers organization wanted to play the young players just to sell hope? Rather than develop them at their own pace, according to their own needs? Renney was essentially directed exactly how to play his players?

    The biggest question for me from all of this is: Who gives the directive? Sure as Heck wasn’t Tambo….so was it Katz or KLowe….?

    It’s interesting

  • Grant

    Back to LD He is going to be a fantastic player. He has great vision, uses his size well has good range to get to pucks and is patient when he has the puck on his stick .
    He will play here next year ,so all you haters go find something of real substance to talk about.
    I’m sure that he will be sent down, so he can work on what he needs to work on.
    As long as he goes somewhere that has his development as a priority.
    Stay away from places that don’t give a crap about his future.

  • Despite obviously big holes in lineup the team is definitely more competitive this season so far . More gelling each game , and we need some of our scorers to contribute more within the structure they are playing . That should happen and if we win next two games we re back in the race . Only the California teams look like locks so far . The rest is going to be a race for playoffs and if we keep trending up we may be close to being there this season. Maybe we are being to critical of our chances , as a lot of other teams are not looking great either in conference . a lot in conference also have several holes as well .

    In a nutshell : I believe we are trending in the right direction , but results are lower than liked/expected . Players seem confident they are on right track , so that’s a positive as well . Next two games we either get in the race or fall back to old results . Giving Draisaitl 9 games and we should maybe give team 10 games before being to pessimistic .

  • I agree it is time for Leon to go down.

    The cheap replacement is Kyle Brodziak.

    I think the bold move that makes the most sense for the organization is adding another young bonafide center.

    Eberle for Couturier.

    Eberle is a talent but its best to build down the middle. Wingers are much easier to trade for or sign via free agency ie. Neal, Erikkson, Nash

  • @#117 J

    I am a Oiler Fan; I have just come back down to reality and realized this is not the 80;s and that we are terrible! Maybe we should start drafting good TEAM players rather than the most offensively gifted play… because that has been working great for us, maybe some character players that we can really respect