Leon Draisaitl, Keith Primeau and Development Curves


One of the most important items when dealing with NHL prospects is patience. It’s not easy for anyone, and it’s really doesn’t come easy to fans who have been stuck watching the Edmonton Oilers of the last decade, but it’s vital.

One thing that might help, at least in the instance of Leon Draisaitl, is to consider the career of Keith Primeau.

Keith Primeau

Keith Primeau

The picture above comes from a hockey card in a collection I assembled (mostly) as a teenager. I don’t collect any more, but I do find that flipping through the cards I have can be handy as a way to get the mind working in August when nothing is happening. In this case, the snippet on the back is interesting when compared to Primeau’s numbers on the ice.

The snippet was provided by The Sporting News and runs like this:

Keith Primeau is a huge offensive-minded centre who is learning to use his size effectively in every phase of the game. He was a prolific scorer in his final two years in juniors and has shown flashes of that ability in the NHL. He’s a surprisingly good skater for a player his size and has a capable shot.

Anyone who has spent time reading hockey cards can probably work out the kind of year Primeau had by looking between the lines there. “Good skater for a player his size” is easily recognized code and the references to “flashes of that [scoring] ability in the NHL” can easily be deconstructed as “most of the time he doesn’t score”.

It was 1990-91. Primeau played 58 games; he scored three goals and had 15 points. Steve Yzerman led the Red Wings with 108 points that year, while rookie second line centre Sergei Fedorov managed 79 points in 77 games. Primeau was 16th on the team, right behind journeyman defensive defenceman Rick Green, who would retire the next year.

Primeau had, in fairness, been drafted just the previous summer but his slow start was a sign of things to come:

  • 1990-91: 58 games, three goals, 15 points (0.26 points/game)
  • 1991-92: 35 games, six goals, 16 points (0.46 points/game)
  • 1992-93: 73 games, 15 goals, 32 points (0.44 points/game)

The Wings were in an interesting spot. The top two jobs at centre were secured long-term and at the age of 22 Primeau was the team’s 10th-most productive NHL forward. He was even worse in the playoffs; 23 games into his NHL postseason career he had all of one goal and three points. On that latter point, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Red Wings of 1993 were not the playoff powerhouse of future seasons; they had won all of one playoff round in five seasons.

Detroit hung on to Primeau and he bloomed. He jumped to 73 points in 1993-94 and fourth on the team scoring list (behind Yzerman, Fedorov and Ray Sheppard). In 1994-95 he actually outscored Yzerman.

Brendan Shanahan

Ultimately, the Red Wings decided that they needed a power winger more than they needed a third really good centre, and they shipped Primeau off to Hartford in the trade that brought back Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan fit splendidly in Detroit and spent the next nine years with the Wings, winning three Cups in the process. Primeau took on a leading role with Hartford and Carolina before eventually being moved in a trade for Rod Brind’Amour and some sweeteners.

Both teams did pretty well with the players they got; as most Oilers fans will remember the ‘Canes ended up winning a Cup with Brind’Amour in a key role, too. But the key lesson here isn’t that the Wings traded Primeau, it’s that they waited until he was 25 years old and they had a firm idea of what kind of player he was. Then they moved Primeau for a player they almost certainly could not have landed had they dealt him at 22.

Leon Draisaitl


Leon Draisaitl is not without similarities to Primeau. Like Primeau, Draisaitl is a big centre who went third overall in his draft year; if we take that Sporting News scouting report and replace Primeau’s name it reads just fine as a description of Draisaitl’s rookie year:

[Leon Draisaitl] is a huge offensive-minded centre who is learning to use his size effectively in every phase of the game. He was a prolific scorer in his final two years in juniors and has shown flashes of that ability in the NHL. He’s a surprisingly good skater for a player his size and has a capable shot.

Primeau was an older member of his draft class, like Draisaitl, and as a result could be sent to the American League as a sophomore. He was; he played 42 games in the minors (posting 45 points) and then showed improvement over a half-season in the majors. I doubt it would be a big shock to anyone if Draisaitl followed a similar path, spending the first half of 2015-16 as a productive AHL’er before graduating to the NHL in the new year.

That should be reasonable. It should also be reasonable if Draisaitl continues to score at a not-overly impressive rate in 2016-17. Not only is he a young player trying to find his way, but like the Red Wings the Oilers already have two good centres locked into the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the depth chart. That makes it tougher to get the kind of even-strength and power play minutes that lead to pretty point totals.

I’m not arguing that Draisaitl is an exact match for Primeau; each player takes his own path. But when we look at how Primeau’s career developed and when the Red Wings ultimately decided to move him, it’s easy to see the value in patience. There’s every reason to think that the same patient attitude is the right one to take with Edmonton’s young prospect.


  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Hall – McDavid – Draisaitl would look great in a couple years. He appears to be tracking as at LEAST a 2C, which might cause cap problems later, as we’ll have two 1Cs already in Nuge and McDavid.

    I think the dark horse at centre is Yakimov. If he can hang at the NHL level, his size and skating would make him an interesting option in the bottom 6. I believe the joke at the rookie tournament last year was, “he didn’t get a jersey number, he got a license plate.”

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    Something has to give because there’s not enough ice time for McD Nuge and Drai. It’s a great problem to have. Competition for a job on the Oilers has been a long time coming. Getting excited….

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    I don’t like the idea of ever trading Draisaitle. He can move to one of the top two lines every once in a while and play wing to get more ice time. If anything trade one of the one dimensional wingers away instead..but not yet..if ever.

  • camdog

    If (when) Leon develops into the kind of player he is tracking into becoming, as crazy at it sounds the tradable commodity is actually RNH. With his cap hit and having McD ahead of him in 2 years and a big talented body like Leon coming up. Salary cap will likely dictate we can’t keep everyone up front and have a strong D to go with them without making some sacrifices.

  • camdog

    I don’t like comparisons of young Oilers to vets whom had their career ended because of serious head trauma.

    Hopefully Primeau is healthy and also hoping the same fate doesn’t happen to any of the current players on the Oiler roster, or any other player in the entire league. Mother in law slipped on ice this past winter, still can’t go back to work, concussions suck!

  • Oil Vice

    Drai’s niche here will be his versatility. He’ll be able to play anywhere in the top 9. That takes the pressure off when there’s injuries or slumps up or down the lineup. His player type also provides that contrast from the rest of the forwards. I hope we find a way to keep him.

  • Teeeb

    Much better article then that Lander one you wrote a week or so ago.

    I think it comes down to Lander/Draisaitl/Yakapov will not be here long term.

    The only way Lander goes is if Draisaitl does not live up to expectations, or if Lander himself regresses from last year.

    IF Draisaitl establishes himself as a legit top 6 forward, and we already have RNH and McDavid, where does that leave Draisaitl, except for possibly on the wing. But then you got Hall/Puoliot, and Eberle/Yakapov. So if they choose to put Draisaitl on Yakapov’s wing, well then where does that leave Nail.

    Nail will need to outperform Draisaitl this year, or he may find himself down the road. Although at 2.5 million, he is not too expensive to be place on our 3rd line with Lander and Korpikoski/Hendricks/Purcell. We are going to need to move someone before too long.

    At least that is the way I see all of this playing out.

  • S cottV

    Oilers would do well to not treat LD as a 3rd class citizen – destined to play behind McD and RNH.

    Maybe I would concede that McD is a cut above and always will be – but – LD may well end up a better 2C fit than RNH.

    So – treat him with the same respect afforded all the other high draft guys in the fold.

    I wouldn’t put him in the AHL.

    • The GREAT Walter White

      LD was not a first overall pick, only first overall picks turn into elite players.

      LD was drafted third overall, as such he has much less potential. What third overall player has ever amounted to anything?

      Think about it…


      • Randaman

        Sure gives you good reason to have faith in Monahan, Bennett & Gaudreau then doesn’t it.

        Or are the Flames magically exempt?

        Brilliant analogy as always Walter

      • YFC Prez

        ^This one from WW deserves a good old DSF style Good Grief.

        The last ten years worth of 3rd overall Drat Picks:











        Yup what a bunch of bums…….

        • The GREAT Walter White

          I guess they don’t teach students the meaning of “sarcasm” in the Edmonton skool system……..

          Or maybe you have to stay in skool past grade 9 to get that lesson taught?


          • YFC Prez


            Your track record doesn’t justify an assumption of sarcasm at all. You type so many things that come out of left field I really doubt this was the exception.

            I’m not from Edmonton either. Oiler fans are stretched far across the globe.


          • The GREAT Walter White

            Let me dumb this down for you: I’m the worlds greatest FLAMES fan……

            We have NEVER drafted first overall.

            We have NEVER drafted top 3.

            Until last year we NEVER drafted top 4.

            Yet the Flames are a far better team than the Oilers (full of first overall picks).

            Why on earth would I be serious about first overall picks being any good????!

            Unless you made a poor attempt at sarcasm yourself…….in that case: full marks for trying!


          • YFC Prez

            Seriously guys.

            Imagine a scruffy greasy haired man in his late 50’s sitting at the bar alone wearing a skin tight Joel Otto jersey and a pair of 1980’s style suit pants while drinking Pilsner ranting to every passer by this^ exact same statement

            He suddenly becomes a very amusing presence here. I’d almost say welcoming.

  • Train#97

    How can you compare players this many years apart as far as age, today’s game . This isn’t 20 years ago when getting players with 50 goals or 100 points was common place . Primeau may not have made it in today’s game .

    • YFC Prez

      Its like watching a crazy drunk guy try to get himself out of his barstool at 2am.

      You keep waiting for someone to help the poor fellow out like a doorman or the bar staff but they’re all so used to his routine they just let him fend for himself. His embarrassing displays have become so common place they just kind of blend into the room. like a picture on the wall.

      Still every now and then we have a moment of compassion and think “You know I’m going to help this poor guy out”, maybe he will pick himself up and be just a little bit better next time.

  • Butters

    To begin the season Drai should do a 8-10 game stint in the AHL.

    I believe it would be good for his confidence and long run preparation.

    If he is a centre at heart, and they have to start him on one of the wings, they have the ability/convenience to try both wings.

    A fair shot at wing has to be given to him-if it is given to him.

    It can’t be a jerk around contest.

    If they decision is made for him to play in the NHL, Drai and the Oilers have to be ok with healthy scratches. He can and should be able to learn with guidance, even if it is from the press box.

    The Oilers can’t afford to keep him sending him up and down, I don’t think it will be good for his confidence and development, they have to decide on one for a long period of the year.

  • FlamesRule

    Trash me if you like but I trolled the flames nation site and read an article about how they used to lack centers and defence. I’d say they replenished both areas and the optimism runs high there. They are keeping their centers and putting them on the wings because they are more valuable. Leon may be more valuable than anyone in our bottom six even now. Gotta keep them cause it wasn’t so long ago when…

  • Reg Dunlop

    I hate to be the only one to grind the gears on Leon but I don’t get this rhetoric about him being huge and slow-appearing because of his massive size. Leon is AVERAGE size for a NHL player today. Only average. And I maintain that his skating is subpar. Keith Primeau was 4 inches taller than Leon in an era where the average size of NHL players must have been smaller than todays 6foot 1 204 lbs. Size wise they are not comparable.

    All of the Jedi mind tricks in the world will not change the fact that the correct pick was Bennett.

    • You maintain that his skating is subpar, yet somehow he won the fastest skater competition against the likes of Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Pouliot etc…

      Something tells me his skating is just fine.

  • hagar

    Leon, Mcdavid, and Nurse were the top three of the entire league in ranking.. I have been against any trade with Leons name because he is a prospect that has soooooo much potential..

    I would lose crazy respect for PC if he traded Leon, because I know it would never have a positive return.

    Leon will fight with Nuge for a spot at center while still under the entry level agreement is my believe.

    He is way too good at what he is doing to ever do anything but keep him around for now.

  • moosewacker

    Interesting comparison with Primeau in that after playing those 58 games in his rookie season, they sent him back to AHL the next year for 42 games. Would not hurt to do the same with Leon.

  • RaWbbie

    Oilers have many blue chip draftees that started with club straight from junior . Two reasons a club like Detroit takes longer to bring their players up into club . Detroit and several other clubs seldom even get a top 5-10 pick to begin with . NBR.1 they never get a top pick to begin you should all remember . NBR. 2 – They are already a contending club without them . If Detroit were like us they , and a non contender , they would also be putting them in their lineup as we have done with first overalls. Thirdly , The Oilers are just like Detroit with later first round picks , it takes longer for them to develop ! Draisaitl has already been demoted and Nurse has for two years now .

    Sounds to me , using some of your logic we should have Draisaitl , Nurse , McDavid and Reinhart all start in AHL this year and bring them along like Detroit and other contending clubs does with later round picks . Somehow people don’t seem to comprehend how fast and developed some of our kids really are to begin with . Thank goodness none of your types are running our club .

  • MattyFranchise

    As some others said, I can see Leon ending up as 2C ahead of Nuge simply because Nuge is well on his way to becoming a hard minutes 3C that can score.

    I mean, the guy scored like 2 goals on the PP last season and ended up getting 25(?) goals total on a bottom 5 team in the league.

    Honestly though, if you end up with a team where Nuge is your 3C, you’re probably sitting in a pretty good place. It wasn’t all that long ago that Nuge was the only natural center on the roster.

    • MattyFranchise

      RNH is a top 6 forward. No way you could afford to have him playing on your 3rd line. Cap space does not allow you to have $6M third line centers, playing 12-14 minutes a night.

      And I think you are gifting LD what he hasn’t earned.

      Today, RNH is our #1 Center, and he will continue to be until someone out plays him on the ice, in real life.

      Last year, RNH was the best player on our team.

      He is one of the last people on the team I would trade, as he is a 2 way center that can play head to head against the leagues best.