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.
ALES HEMSKY ROOKIE, FIRST 2 MONTHS
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:
SAM GAGNER ROOKIE, FIRST 2 MONTHS
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.
LEON DRAISAITL ROOKIE, SO FAR
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.
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.
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.