When we’re old and grey (and some of us don’t have long to wait) we will be able to look back on this era of Oilers history and ask the following question: was it a good idea to keep Leon in the NHL?

I wonder if the Oilers are calling on some of their own past in their development plan for Leon Draisaitl.
Back when he was a rookie, Ales Hemsky didn’t play every game and when he did play minutes were not plentiful. At the time, coach Craig MacTavish (and GM Kevin Lowe) felt the youngster was better served learning and practicing with the big club.


hemsky rookie

In his first 16 NHL games, Hemsky posted 7 assists on about 10 and a half minutes a night. That’s basically fourth-line minutes, but 30% of his total points that season (9 of 30) came with the man advantage. 

The club brought him along slowly, and I recall specifically one of the concerns about sending him back for another junior season was the lack of progress year over year. They liked him, and felt he would develop better under major league tutelage. Hemsky did play with good linemates, as this summary from a 2003 game shows:

hemsky linemates



gagner rookie

Sam Gagner, unlike Hemsky, got the push. By the end of November 2007, he was 25 games into his NHL career and scoring 2-8-10. Samwise was averaging most of 14 minutes a game. That was certainly a push compared to Hemsky, although the offensive results were similar and came in far more minutes (less efficient). 

Gagner was shy defensively, but could score very well and would end up with 49 points as an NHL rookie. He played with (most often) Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano, two youths in their own right trying to make the grade.



draisaitl rookie

Draisaitl’s career has been more similar to Gagner, in that he’s getting more minutes (12:14 a night) and similar to Hemsky in that he’s drawing quality linemates. 

draisaitl wowy112

Leon at 5×5 is getting veteran linemates (and Yak) with the results being a positive Corsi (50.7) for 5×5. That’s an outstanding number (Gagner was 46.1 in his rookie season) but the offense is lagging (Leon has exactly half of Gagner’s points, two fewer than Hemsky).

Enter a team need and RNH’s emergence as a guy who can push the river.

gregor leon tweet

That’s so good for Draisaitl it hurts IF that line gets a zone start push and can avoid the strong defensive matchups. As a soft minutes line, this trio has all kinds of possibilities.

I go back to the MacT plan for developing Hemsky, using two-way vets to bring him along. Sadly, the Oilers don’t have Marchant and Smyth to mentor the department of youth and that’s going to impact Draisaitl’s progress BUT they didn’t place him on a line of kids either. 

For me, Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell plus a zone start push and the soft parade is a very nice place for LD to land.

  • Derzie

    When Hemsky started, he started out with 4th line minutes on the forth line with the likes of BGL. Horcoff also started on the forth line. Back in the days they had to earn their minutes. They also had 70+ points seasons before they were signed to their big contracts.

    The problem with the current team is that the core are too entitled. Remember when Renney talked about management tasked him to play the kids more because they want to sell hope?

    It is not entirely wrong to ask the veteran to do the heavy lifting and hand the kids the soft minutes for development. It becomes a problem whenthe kids think they are better than the incumbent and entitled more than the former 1st liner. They signed the 2nd contract after their 2nd season, but the truth is Hall didn’t proof he is elite until last season, and Nuge didn’t started to look elite until this one. One can only uess what the dressing room is like.

    This should be the biggest criticism on the management.

  • Kevwan

    When you state that the Oilers should have sent Leon back to Junior, consider this.

    That means that the Oilers centre depth would have been Nuge, Arcobello, Lander/Acton and Gordon.

    How do we know this? It is obvious. We know MacT has done everything humanly (and humanely) possible to acquire a solid NHL 2/3 Center and there are absolutely none available for any price.

    As a result the Oilers have adopted their standard fall back position and are waiting for the 2015 draft. Boy does this suck.

          • Basshole39

            Only a hypocrite would say something this rediculous!

            Over paying at any cost would be stupid. He overpayed for Nikitin on short term, not long.

            Look past the hatred and open your freaking eyes for once. Not every move they make is wrong or a mistake, just like not every move they make is right!

          • Joy S. Lee

            What was “wrong” was going into this pivotal season without a key pivot, and hoping to improve your position in the western conference. Wouldn’t you agree? Or do you think what they’ve done – nothing – was the right course of action?

            He’s right. He didn’t try hard enough, or in other words, he didn’t make something/anything happen to improve the situation. As someone said, they gambled another season on unlikely scenarios, and it almost appears that they’re doing it on purpose. Doesn’t it?

    • Zarny

      To say there are absolutely no solid NHL 2/3 centers available for any price is simply false.

      It’s certainly possible MacT was talking to Legwand, Ribeiro, Roy, Grabovski etc and simply lost the bidding war. It is unlikely, however, that he would have lost out “at any price”. MacT could have chosen to pay a higher price. He simply chose not to.

      It’s also highly unlikely that players like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Artem Anisimov and countless others have been unavailable “at any price”.

      MacT has simply chosen to not pay the price.

      The story was that the Oilers would rebuild through the draft. They already last place and Taylor Hall in the bag when that decision was made. They already had Jordan Eberle too.

      So in 5 years the only additional names “building through the draft” has produced on forward are Nuge and Yakupov. That’s it…2 players in 5 years.

      Yet to date, the Oilers cling to their picks and prospects like a drug addict to crack. They have log jam on left side D where they will never be able to play Marincin, Klefbom and Nurse together yet they refuse to move any assets and pay the price to fill obvious holes in the roster.

      That is a choice. And it’s a choice that has resulted in starting 6-11-2 and 28th place in year 5 of their rebuild.

      • Randaman


        So what I take from your two previous posts is that MacT has been and continues to be a POOR GM and decision maker.

        Rookie coach, no #2C (NHL Quality), won’t trade assets to improve the team, etc.

        Does this not point to tanking in your view?

        This team as it is now is just BRUTAL!!

        Would you not agree that it may be time (seasons end) to do a professional search for a seasoned GM and coach. Of course, no GM or coach of this caliber is going to come here and work for Lowe! Therein lies the dilemna…

        • pkam

          MacT has shown he is willing to overpay to get veteran defense players (whether they work out is a different subject), so base on what do you conclude he doesn’t want to overpay to get a 2C. There is always a price a GM is willing to pay. Without knowing the details of any UFA or trade negotiation, how do we know if the asking price is acceptable or not? I would tend to think that the players that we acquired, although overpaid, are the less expensive ones. If MacT overpay to get a 2C and a starting goalie, he won’t have the cap space to get veteran Defense. Now we will complain that MacT isn’t doing his job to get us some veteran defense knowing our defense is so weak, won’t we?

        • Zarny

          I don’t look at it as MacT has been “good” or “poor”. That is simplistic thinking. I think MacT has made some good moves/decisions and I think he has made some poor moves/decisions. Overall, that probably puts him at about average.

          Regardless of your preference of adjectives, I think what is undeniable is that what MacT has done is not enough.

          Regarding his poor decisions, MacT has shown a willingness to correct them (or at least try) rather than sit on his mistakes like many GMs do. So I give him credit for that. I think his decision regarding Draisaitl and the depth at C was a poor decision so we’ll see if that trend continues.

          Hiring a “rookie coach” is not a poor decision in and of itself. John Cooper, Willie Desjardins and many other “rookie coaches” have done just fine. So listing off “rookie coach” as if it’s some universal mistake simply has no merit. I do not think Dallas Eakins is Scotty Bowman reincarnate and he has certainly made some mistakes and/or decisions I don’t agree with, but coaching is not the Oilers problem. The Oilers aren’t sitting in 28th place because they are using the wrong systems or the coach isn’t pumping up the troops enough before the game.

          The root of the Oilers problems is goaltending. They are last in the league for SV %. That they are also 20th in the league for shooting % compounds the problem. The bottom line though is it does not matter whether your possession numbers are better or what systems you play, if your goaltending is the worst in the league you will not win games.

          I do not believe MacT’s intentions were to tank this year for a shot at McDavid or Eichel. I think MacT honestly thought Scrivens and/or Fasth would stabilize goaltending this year. And I don’t think that move, looked at in isolation, is necessarily a poor decision. Yzerman used a similar approach in TB.

          However, it’s a decision that came with a fair degree of uncertainty. As did the decisions to go with defense by committee, a draft year rookie at C as well as an undrafted midget with 42 games experience at C too. There are more than a few good teams with uncertainty at one or two positions. Uncertainty at all 3 positions (F, D, G) was another poor decision with predictable results.

          I certainly think MacT is on his last legs. The Oilers were never going to contend for the playoffs this year but should certainly be in the next group of teams fighting for 18-22nd ish. They are currently only 6 points behind 20th so the season is hardly “lost” but the clock is ticking.

          I expect MacT will make a significant-ish move within the next week. If he does not and the Oilers continue to languish 25th or lower then yes I think he should be fired and replaced. At that point, I don’t see how you don’t completely clean house.

          I do not place a priority on a “seasoned” GM or coach. None of Brad Treliving, Jim Benning, Jim Nill, John Cooper or Willie Desjardins were “seasoned” GM’s or coaches and I think they were all very good hires. John Tortorella was a “seasoned” coach and he was terrible. “Seasoned” and good are not synonymous terms.

          What I would focus on in a search to replace MacT are assistant GMs from good teams. Seasoned and good are not synonymous but experience is certainly valuable.

          And no, I don’t think it’s a case that no GM or coach of caliber would work with Kevin Lowe. If MacT is fired I think the Lowe haters will also get their wish, but it is simply dumb to think that the rest of the hockey world has the same negative feelings for Kevin Lowe that many Oilers fans do. That is simply projecting your own negative feelings onto others who have no reason to share them. Lowe has worked closely with Hockey Canada, GMs like Yzerman and Chiarelli, and coaches like Babcock and Hitchcock. You don’t get that gig because everyone hates working with you. It’s quite the opposite in fact.

          That doesn’t mean there isn’t just cause to fire Kevin Lowe. There is. But the notion that he is some NHL pariah is simply foolish.

      • Randaman

        All this = McDavid, Eichel or Hanifin.

        This season will be very long and tedious but that has to be the reason for the ineptitude.
        MacT can’t really be as stupid as he appears to be can he??

  • The team played some decent hockey without Hall. Pou-Nuge-Ebs, Perron-Arco-Yak, and Hendo-Gordo-Joensuu all looked good. It was Draisaitl’s line that left something to be desired.

    Plugging Hall there is a good idea IMO. Sink or swim time for Draisaitl.

  • what difference does it really make? He’s got to have a rookie season at some point. Draisaitl isn’t the deciding factor between making the playoffs this season or not. Notwithstanding the acquisition of a legitimate, experienced 2nd line 400′ center, the oilers were never going to make the playoffs this season. That particular player wasn’t available, or if he was, didn’t want to come to Edmonton. I doubt this season has ruined Draisaitl’s NHL career

  • It is 2101, the earth has become self sustaining, the moon has 2 teams playing in the western conference depending on what time of day the game is played at. The NHL Is considering expanding to mars and players now play with giant magnetic bubbles over their heads. Klowe has been dead for years the earth has become to small to sustain the human population and as a species we are begining to relocate to other planets. Meanwhile in Edmonton, winter is still here and we are hiding in our caves wondering when we are going to get a 2C and a defensemen and talking about next years playoffs

  • Zarny

    I don’t think you have to wait until you are old and grey to answer the question – No, it wasn’t a good idea to keep Leon Draisaitl in the NHL.

    In my opinion, you can’t answer the question by looking at the player in isolation without looking at how the decision has impacted the team.

    If the Oilers were say, the LA Kings, and had Kopitar and Carter as their 1-2 C perhaps it would have been a good idea. He could play with talented wingers while still being properly sheltered without hurting the team. Suffice it to say, the Edmonton Oilers are not the LA Kings.

    Many who supported keeping Draisaitl trotted out NHLe numbers while IMO ignoring the skill set that actually translates into success for draft year rookies – skating. After 19 games, Draisaitl is on pace for a whopping 22 points. His skating is by no means terrible but it also by no means good. Not for the NHL. The coach feels compelled to shelter Leon to the tune of less than 10 min a night on the road.

    I think what is most important is that keeping Draisaitl has hurt the team. I don’t think you need Captain Obvious to state this was a crucial year for the Oilers to show improvement. The Oilers are a roster with holes/question marks on forward, defense and in goal – a trifecta of uncertainty.

    Keeping and having to rely on Draisaitl is akin to throwing sandbags on a ship that you worry will take on water. Nuge is still only 21 y/o. Arcobello still only has 61 NHL games experience and is not and probably will never be a C you can rely on every night. Gordon does yeoman’s work on a defensive line but will never consistently be a guy who can step up and provide offense consistently.

    Piling uncertainty on top of uncertainty is bad management and poor decision making. MacT chose to enter the season crossing his fingers and hoping for the best. From a management perspective, he is guilty of playing with the same kind of risk that we see from players like Schultz, Eberle, Yakupov etc. It was a mistake and so far the results speak for themselves.