Leon Draisaitl, Healthy Scratch

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In what can variously be described as a victory for meritocracy, a victory for proper development or a blow to proper development, it appears that the Edmonton Oilers will make Leon Draisaitl a healthy scratch for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Meritocracy

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Draisaitl did not have to force his way on to the Edmonton Oilers roster and he has seen virtually no competition for a spot in the lineup. The team built by general manager Craig MacTavish started the year with two NHL centres, rounded out that group with Draisaitl and Mark Arcobello, and penciled in Will Acton as its little-used No. 5 pivot, meaning that all Draisaitl had to do to stay in the lineup every night was be better than Acton. After an ugly cameo, Acton was demoted to the minors and soon departed the organization, and Draisaitl had literally no competition for a roster spot at centre.

There is virtually no better way to create a culture of entitlement than to constantly hand things to players who haven’t earned it.

That’s one of the reasons the elevation of Anton Lander is encouraging. He creates at least the possibility of competition for a job at centre, giving the coaches the option of scratching Draisaitl or Arcobello if they don’t play very well (breaking news: for most of the year, neither has). We can debate how formidable Lander is, but he’s now getting a shot at his natural position under a coach who helped get the most out of him in the AHL, so there is at least some reason to think that he might show more this time than he has in previous NHL stints.

Ideally, a team should never be stuck in a situation where it has to play guys who have earned a seat in the press box. That’s where the Oilers have been at centre all year; it’s a big positive to see that changing.

Development

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From a development standpoint, nobody’s likely to read too much into a single game in the press box. But it might prompt the Oilers to move beyond Draisaitl at centre; mileage is going to vary on whether that’s good or bad.

Some argue that the important thing with elite players is to get them to the highest level possible as quickly as possible; they say that those players only flourish when they’re being pushed to their limits. This school of thought urges that players like Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi – both top picks, let’s not forget – get promoted to the majors early so they can be properly challenged. The results of that philosophy have been decidedly underwhelming in Edmonton.

Then there are people like me who look at what Detroit does, see the incredible results, and argue that’s the way to do it. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the Red Wings’ development system – many in Edmonton argue that Detroit’s tremendous depth is what allows it to do what it does but in reality it’s much more than that. There isn’t a team in the league that can’t find third and fourth-line depth players in free agency if it wants to; there is always a Kyle Chipchura or David Schlemko or Viktor Stalberg around to plug in if a team prioritizes patient development. The trick is that the team needs to make patient development a priority.

I’ve quoted Ken Holland’s take from the book Behind the Moves previously; I’m going to do so again here:

I spent nine years in the American Hockey League, and what impacted [me] there as I got into my third, fourth, fifth year of pro, was that I was a veteran American league player who was kept around to provide leadership and to be a good player to help the team win. Hartford would bring all these kids in – and the organizations that I was with in Detroit and Hartford, they were struggling organizations. The minute a young kid would play well for six weeks, he’d get [called] up and [provide] a little bit of spark [to the parent club,] and then six weeks later they would [be sent back] down and they were just beaten up. The league was too tough. They couldn’t make a difference. It took you another few weeks, few months to get those players back to where they [had been] confidence-wise and playing-wise. So from a player-development standpoint – a personal-development standpoint – [I learned that] people are ready when they’re ready and [I learned about] the importance of building a foundation.

People are ready when they’re ready. It’s important to build a foundation. Recalling guys based on a short sample of strong results is ultimately hard on the development of those players.

There’s been a lot of talk around the internet about how Draisaitl hasn’t been getting overwhelmed by the league. It’s never really rung true for me; what feels more accurate is what Holland said above about countless unnamed prospects rushed to the NHL. The league was too tough. He couldn’t make a difference.

The Oilers should really hope that Lander can put it all together. All down the line the team has professed that it was going to do what was best for Draisaitl’s development; it seems clear at this point that “more NHL action” is not what’s best and it’s just a shame that doing the right thing for a valuable prospect basically requires Lander to make the jump to being an NHL centre tomorrow.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

    • I heard on one of the radio shows the other day, maybe Strudwicks, that Leon Draisaitl did not enjoy himself at the WJC last year and that was possibly why the Oilers weren’t releasing him – he didn’t want to go. In that same conversation the analyst has said that they’re trying to get a trade worked out for him to go to a contender and if so they’d send him down. This was from an analyst and not anyone directly linked with the team so take it for what its worth.

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    Anyone else get the feeling that Anton Lander is a cautionary tale, or a vision of Leon Draisatl’s future? He, too, was once a cherished young prospect, playing center in the NHL on a team lacking depth and playoff aspirations…

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    The Kid is soft. Scouting on the Oilers is the problem. Yak still has some rope because he sometimes shows flashes of something special. But the Oilers have a teenager from DE playing second line C mins and they hope to win.??
    Anybody who gets the respect of the coach to be awarded the C in OKC has 40 game window to give the fans a feel good story instead of pure distain. Anton Lander is a player who has paid his dues and here’s his chance.

    If you go to the oilers web site and watch the Pre-game interviews of Nelson and Ruff it gives you a breath of fresh air about two guys talking about hockey:)

    Not the blah blah blah

  • Is it possible that the scouting guys were favoring Bennett as their selection, and MAcT and probably other management over ruled scouting, and picked Leon.

    In typical fashion MacT probably stated that” this guy is so good, he can be starting 2nd line center for the team, and play along side our Norris D-MAN.

    lEON is a long way from being a sound NHL player. Cant skate, has no jam, and wont shoot the puck.

    Hope fully with all do respect maybe Nelson in the next 50 games or so, can turn Leons and Yaks game into something resembling NHL players.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Isn’t it amazing. In order to keep his 80’s chums fat, sassy and employed Katz has allowed them to be a virtual ‘cap team’ and they are the 30th place team in a 30 team league.

    Now that is loyalty.

  • dougtheslug

    I don’t even know why I still follow this pathetic excuse for a team. I honestly hate every decision they make. And the fact that KBLowe is still there makes me cheer against them!! Who knew Katz could ruin somthing I use to enjoy so much so quickly!!

  • Burnward

    Maybe its a brilliant compromise

    They sit him in the press box while the German Team is playing and he can watch both games at one….thats thinking outside the box

  • HockeyYoda

    “all Draisaitl had to do to stay in the lineup every night was be better than Acton”.

    This is the point that hammers it home for me. I think the leading scorer on my beer league team could bump Acton off the roster.

  • paul wodehouse

    …this club is tanking…all the signs say it’s tanking to get the one and only thing it needs to make this season a success…another first overall draft pick next summer…

    … Connor McDavid…it is what it is …