Leon Draisaitl on the wing may just work out for everyone

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Asked on Thursday about the possibility of moving 2014 third overall pick Leon Draisaitl out of his natural position at centre and on to the wing, Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan admitted that he’d thought about it.

His subsequent comments made it clear that he’d thought about it a lot.

McLellan’s Take

Todd McLellan

In a wide-ranging interview with 630 CHED’s Bob Stauffer, McLellan was asked at one point whether Draisaitl would see time at both centre and on the wing in training camp. He didn’t hold back on his answer:

There’s a chance that can happen. You’re referencing the San Jose situation; Patrick Marleau had already established himself as a star player in the league and when we got there he went on to the wing. We had Marleau and Pavelski playing the wing, for a couple of reasons. One, we felt that they were consistent top-six players, and with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture taking the one and two spots in San Jose, Pavelski and Marleau would be wasting some of their talent in the third-line role a lot of the time.

I look at Leon Draisaitl, and in my opinion Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid are going to be one and two centremen in our organization for a long, long time. They’re that talented and that good, not that Leon isn’t. But does Leon want to play on that third line year after year? It doesn’t mean he can’t take and steal ice time from the other two, but career-wise he might love to be on one of their wings and playing in the top-six rather than being that third-line centre. I think it’s really unfair to peg him there, but we also have to look at it from that perspective. Your responsibilities as a winger are somewhat less, his board work is actually quite good, and one of the things that impressed me about Leon was the ability to play on his backhand. Joe Thornton has incredible eyes and makes incredible passes on his back hand; for a young man like Leon he did the exact same thing at the summer development camp, which is something I wasn’t aware of.

Who This (Might) Work For

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Leon Draisaitl. Maybe he’s playing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Maybe he’s on the port side of Connor McDavid. Regardless, if he’s in a winger role it’s a pretty good bet he finds himself on one of the Oilers’ scoring lines immediately, and given the firepower up front that’s a pretty nice place to be. As McLellan notes, this also makes it easier for him to jump to the NHL, by reducing his defensive assignments.

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Anton Lander. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Lander’s long-term future with the Oilers is under threat as long as he has to compete with Draisaitl (obviously a long-term piece) and Mark Letestu (signed for three years, and with the same versatility as Lander). I wrote an unpopular piece early last month which questioned where Lander fits given the short- and long-term threats to his niche on the roster, but if Draisaitl moves over primarily to the wing it makes it much easier to envision Lander winning a long-term role with Edmonton.

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Teddy Purcell/Nail Yakupov. If Draisaitl is pushed to left wing (logically, given that he’s a left shot) it means that the Oilers’ left wing depth chart suddenly features Benoit Pouliot in the No. 3 hole. That’s a pretty massive boost to the third line, and it means that whichever of Purcell or Yakupov ends up in that slot most of the time can count on having two quality linemates.

It’s not just the individuals above who could plausibly benefit from this. Whichever line Draisaitl ends up on has an injection of size and a second faceoff option if the first pivot gets thrown out of the dot (which in turn allows that centre to be a bit more aggressive than he otherwise might be). It gives McLellan a spare centre outside of his regular four, allowing him to rejig his lines in a hurry in the event of injury, penalty or poor performance. It gives the third line a stable veteran in Pouliot, and thereby improves the Oilers’ ability to take advantage of clubs with weak forward depth.

This is a really interesting idea in a lot of ways, and one of the major subplots to follow at training camp this fall.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • freelancer

    We have 2 proven L wingers in Hall and Pouliot who is likely stay with the top line as he has far more experience than Drai. If Drai plays his natural position at C than it is Lander that will be looking over his shoulder. Drai is young is is still very much in the development stage so playing on the 3rd line at wing makes more sense than moving Pou to the 3rd line and moving an unproven Drai to the 1st line. He can also step in should one of our 4 C’s get injured as C is a key offensive position i.e. in a perfect world you need 5 C’s with one playing the wing for injuries. 5 NHL capable good-great C’s for the Oil – who woudda thunk it.

  • freelancer

    Danglish: ” he may become one of the most productive” MAY?

    Wingers 2011-12 to 13-14

    #1 Kessel 212gm 214PT 1.01 PPG

    #2 St.louis 206gm 203pt .99 PPG

    #3 Ovechkin 204gm 200pt .98 PPG

    #4 Kane 198gm 190PT .96 PPG

    #5 Hall 181gm 183PT 1.01 PPG

    #6 Kunitz 208gm 181pt .87 PPG

    #7 Eberle 206gm 178pt .86 PPG

    #7 Neal 179gm 178PT .99 PPG

    #7 Perry 205gm 178pt .87 PPG

    #10 Benn 193gm 175pt .91 PPG

    Eberle W/Eakins 115gm 34G 51A 85P -25 .296 GPG .74 PPG

    Eberle w/o 172gm 68G 88A 156P -2 .395 GPG .91 PPG

  • freelancer

    Lander played 27 reg shidt games. He was 6G 13A 19P a 80gm 18G 56p pace.

    if the bonus driven players play all year. there is a good chance the reach all there bonuses. Drai 3.4M cap; Mcdavid 3.775M cap; Reinhart 3.213M cap

    That means 13fwd Hall; Eberle; RNH; Purcell; pouliot; Mcdavid; Draisatl; Korpikoski; Yakupov; Hendricks ; Letestu; Lander; Klinkhammer total 44.038 Cap hit

    8D: Sekera; Nikitin; Schultz; Fayne; Ference; Reinhart; Gryba; Klefbom 26.482 cap hit

    any 2 of the 3 golaies 3.75M cap hit.

    Totals 74.32M cap hit we cannot have 3 of Draisatl; Mcdavid; Reinhart.

    • freelancer

      Good point. I think though you will find one or two of Nikitin, Ference or Purcell finding another home and lower cost players in their place, if Reinhart and Draisatl win a spot out of camp. It will cost something, but I would rather see the our best play. If not, then one or two of the three young players need to start in the AHL and wait for options to arise.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Could be totally wrong, but can’t rookie bonus values that put you over the cap be deferred to the following year?

      Will be no problem with Purcell / Niki off the books.

      • camdog

        Klefbomb and a goalie would need to be re-signed. If the Canadian dollar continues to stagnate the Oilers would be foolish to take the risk. This could turn into Boston before we even make the playoffs…

    • Train#97

      Not to sure about the ins and outs of the cap . Aren’t bonuses in a players salary already included in the cap hit which is what we go by when considering payroll?

      • camdog

        Teams are permitted to go a certain percentage point over the cap with potential bonus coverage however will be penalized the following year if it results in them going over the cap.

        Between Klefbomb and the new starting goalie (Possible Talbot raise) the team is going to need to spend an additional 6 million. If the young guns were to all start the year with the Oilers and make their bonus the Oilers payroll next season would be limited due to financial constraints. Some Oilersnation writers have been misrepresenting the money available to the Oilers to spend over the past few months and it has caused some confusion.

  • AJ88

    SOunds good to me. Draisaitl, eventually taking over Pouliot’s spot on the first line and Pouliot giving a boost to our third line.

    Drai-RNH-Ebs, Hall-McDavid-Yak, Pouliot-Lander-Purcell

    That looks pretty damn good to me. And with Purcellleaving soon, it gives a spot for our up and comers to shoot for.

  • HECTOR

    I think DRAI is a good centerman, as lots of comments atest to. I know guys will trash me but I think Todd M will start McDavid at wing and DRAI at centre. Once CMD figures out how to play defence in the NHL they will let him play centre.

  • camdog

    Before any thought is given to converting LD to the wing he needs to go down to the AHL and dominate at C for 30-35 games, playing 20 minutes a night. With injuries at C he should still get into 20 games at centre at the NHL level if his game is good enough.

    Converting him to the wing before he gets the opportunity to try centre at the Pro level would be foolish. Converting LD to the wing is a possibility for 2-3 years down the road. He could potentially replace Purcell in the line up for next season.

    • Train#97

      If McLellan thinks it’s a good idea I’ll go with that . He probably knows what he is talking about. He converted Pavelski to the wing and I reason he couldn’t do the same with Draisaitl.

      • camdog

        Did McLellan say it was a good idea for next season or to start the season? Nothing wrong with eventually converting him to the wing, however it would be good for LD to go down to the farm and excel at centre first. When injuries strike it would be good if LD was ready to take over at centre, rather than have Hendricks fill the role.

        If LD lights it up at Centre in the minors after 30-35 games then you could even bring him up to fill in for centre or the wing. By that time it should be a good bet that he won’t make his bonus and hurt the Oilers salary cap.

  • Train#97

    Not sure where Draisaitl will end up it you an bet McLellan is gonna try him on the wing, put him with the best players and see what he can do. If he does play centre he will be eased into that role.
    Where would we see his talent come through most, playing with guys like KorpikoskI and Purcell , or NUGE and Eberle?

  • Flying Elinski Brothers

    Am I the only one who thinks in 3 years we might have a real question at who is a better suited 2nd line Center for multiple cups? mcdavid/dre, mcdavid/nuge, seen driasitle play and alot more dynamic then alot realize

    • Flying Elinski Brothers

      Might it not be the fulcrum point McDavid ,from which rest of top 5 revolve around riding his coattails ? He is the one to lead the separation and possession upsurge thru his skating ability , and thus creating lanes and avenues for all to take advantage of no matter who his line mates are . I predict he will be our on ice leader this year and will have rest of team excited to play his style so as to compliment him . The team will get to next level playing with this type of talent . We already witnessed how much better Hall and Eberle played with another fairly elite talent like Crosby in Worlds , and how they upped their play there . They’ll be doing same with McDavid , and rest of team will also join in and be part of that domino effect . We haven’t had this dimension since Gretzky , but it looks like we are well on the way now ! Exciting for fans and even more so for players . It’s amazing how so many have forgotten how Gretzky took rest of club to such high levels in such a short time .