Under normal circumstances, Leon Draisaitl would still be considered the shiny, new thing with the Edmonton Oilers after being drafted third overall last summer as the big, talented centre the team has long coveted.
Circumstances in Edmonton have been far from normal, however, since the Oilers won the NHL draft lottery and the right to select centre Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters with the first pick in the 2015 Entry Draft. Oiler fans have been fist-pumping since, and rightfully so. McDavid is, with good reason, the player generating all the buzz.
While Oiler fans celebrate their good fortune and await the arrival of McDavid, Draisaitl has been tearing it up in Western Hockey League playoffs with the Kelowna Rockets, who are today one win away from a birth in the Memorial Cup after taking a 3-0 series lead over the Brandon Wheat Kings Monday.
With 9-17-26 in 18 playoff games with the Rockets, Draisaitl is tied for the lead in team scoring and sits tied for second among post-season scorers as Kelowna sits poised to qualify for junior hockey’s biggest showcase and a possible date with McDavid and the Otters.
Bumped down a notch on Edmonton’s prospect marquee by McDavid, Draisaitl is looking like one helluva second banana. New Oiler GM Peter Chiarelli wouldn’t consider trading a big, talented centre like Draisaitl to address other needs on the roster, would he? Would he?
NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY
When this season started, fans were rightfully lamenting lack of depth at centre on the roster assembled by then-GM Craig MacTavish. The Oilers broke training camp with only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon as proven NHL pivots. Bad plan, or lack of one.
Draisaitl was tossed into the mix and was in over his head. He scored 2-7-9 in 37 games before the Oilers sent him to Kelowna after a deal was struck between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Rockets. Draisaitl responded by scoring 19-34-53 in 32 regular season games with the rockets.
Skip ahead to now with Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid penciled in as the top two centres. Gordon is still here and Anton Lander seems to have finally broken through. There’s some doubt there’s room for Draisaitl in the middle. There’s talk having Draisaitl start on the wing is the best option to open the season. There’s also the possibility he could start the season in the minors if he doesn’t outright win a job at training camp.
Those options are fine from where I sit. Better to have too many centres than not enough. If that means Draisaitl starts on the wall in the bigs or begins next season in the minors, it’s all good. What isn’t fine, barring a deal the Oilers just can’t refuse, is if Draisaitl is seen as a spare part or a bargaining chip as Chiarelli sets out to address questions in goal and on the blue line.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
The pending arrival of McDavid has opened up all kinds of possibilities for Chiarelli as he looks to fill the holes MacTavish left. There’s been talk about the possibility of Chiarelli dipping into his core players to acquire a stud defensemen. There’s been speculation he could package his other first-round pick, 16th overall from Pittsburgh, and a player to land something he needs.
Short of stiffing a gullible member of the GM’s fraternity in a trade or finding what he needs via free agency, Chiarelli will have to, at some point, give up quality to get quality. How much he gives up, obviously, will depend on what’s coming back. He won’t get what he needs for spare parts.
That said, what I wouldn’t do at this point is move Draisaitl in a trade because there’s no way Chiarelli, or anybody in the organization, knows for certain what they’d be trading after 37 NHL games. What’s Draisaitl’s top end? We don’t know. You can’t know after the glimpse, under less than ideal conditions, we got of Draisaitl this season.
As exciting as the thought of McDavid flying up and down the ice in Edmonton silks is, let’s not lose track of the possibility Draisaitl might well become the big talented centre this team was begging for 12 months ago. You can’t have too many of those.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.