The question of what the Oil should do with Rookie Leon Draisaitl at the 40 game mark of the season has been a point of speculation for some time. On Tuesday Mark Spector felt comfortable stating that based on his information the Oilers would be sending the big German to the WHL by Saturday.
Before Spec wrote about it in his column here, the pieces were slowly coming together telegraphing the move. The Oilers did not want to send Draisaitl back to PA where the coach had been sacked early in the season and the team wasn’t very good. However, if he could somewhere else it could be acceptable. In advance of Christmas Robin Brownlee noted the connections that the Oilers had with the Kelowna Rockets, the reported destination for Leon Draisaitl.
Connections between Oilers and KEL. Owner and GM is Bruce Hamilton. Knows MacTavish and Nicholson and dad of EDM draft pick Curtis Hamilton.
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) December 22, 2014
Shortly thereafter Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal reported that the rights of Leon Draisaitl had been traded somewhat in secret already by Prince Albert to Kelowna, the powerhouse team of the WHL and likely all of the CHL.
I’m hearing Leon Draisaitl’s junior rights have been traded from Prince Albert to Kelowna. Up to parties to announce it.#oilers.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) December 30, 2014
When pressed about the status of Leon Draisaitl the Oilers’ GM MacTavish gave little more than a confirmation of his status as a member of the NHL team at that given minute. He did not deny the club’s intention to move him in just a few days. He did not speak to his NHL talent level. He just said that at this time Leon was an Oiler. Reassuring, I’m sure, for the Rookie.
In hindsight the Oilers probably should have sent Draisaitl back to the WHL after the 9 game mark of the season, however there was no way for the club to know the wheels of the season had never even been installed let alone ready to come off. That’s important to note because part of the reason he stayed up was because the franchise was counting on his production as an integral part of their year.
MacT had cleared a wide berth for him by trading away Sam Gagner and not acquiring any other NHL centermen in the offseason. They were working without a safety net. It was all-in on Draisaitl and the plan backfired. If by game 10 the Oilers had moved Draisaitl to the WHL and called up Lander, who had not performed well at the NHL level or in Training Camp, then they would have effectively given up on the season right there.
Again, hindsight being what it is, we know now that their season was over before it began.
Beyond the team’s play, after 9 games I personally hadn’t seen enough of Draisaitl to say for certain that he wouldn’t get more comfortable and start producing points. In his first 9 games he went 1-2-3 and had shown flashes of his passing ability that impressed everyone in Training Camp. He had NHL size and his speed, though not great, was not a detriment. In fact, at the recent Oilers Skills Competition he ended up winning the fastest skater award.
I cannot say in all honesty that I would have been prepared to send him down at that time.
The problem is that in the 25 games that he’s played since then he has only added 1-3-4 for a total of 7 points. He is shooting just 4.1% so a little bad luck is a problem here, but that simply isn’t enough production for a guy who takes a lot of offensive zone starts.
The team has given Leon a big offensive push with a team leading 44% OZ Starts. Nobody on the team begins in the attacking zone more frequently than he does and he has been playing with relatively decent wingers the entire year. It is not because the Oilers put him in a position to fail that he has not produced. They tried. It just didn’t happen.
He hasn’t been a poor possession player either, though one shouldn’t be when he starts in the attacking zone so much. Draisaitl is among the team leaders in Corsi For at 51.8% on the season. It’s not as if the Oilers are hopelessly dominated when he’s out there, they just aren’t doing anything positive for themselves.
He just wasn’t ready, and not a lot of Teenagers really are. I think at this point if he can go back to playing against his own peer group, find his scoring touch, and potentially win a Memorial Cup then he should do it. He could learn a lot playing 12:47 a night in the NHL but there are plenty of lessons to be learned at 20 minutes for a winner in the CHL.
Yes, it’s almost 30 games too late, but it’s never a bad time to make the right decision.
WHAT ABOUT THE WJC?
If they send Leon back while this tournament is going on then there are going to a lot of questions. Personally I think it’s poor form for the Oilers. The rationale is that he already played for Germany twice at this event so there isn’t much left for him there.
I think denying a player the chance to play for his country is not something you should be making a habit of. They could have loaned him and sent him back after. Germany isn’t a great team but they would be significantly better with him there.
It’s a goofy decision that makes the Oil look Mickey Mouse.
The flip side is that he got to play NHL games earning an NHL paycheck for that much longer. In the long run the kid is going to make his money I’m sure, but playing for your country is special.
I really don’t like the call here, if he does in fact go back to the WHL anyway.