GDB 17.0: Draisaitl is Rolling

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The Oilers were 5-10 and had eight of their next ten games on the road, prior to last night’s game in Anaheim. They desperately needed a win. And they got one.

The win didn’t salvage their season, but Teddy Purcell’s reaction after scoring the OT winner illustrated how important this win was for the team. “We need to believe in ourselves, and coming from behind tonight and finishing it off — we needed this,” said Purcell post-game.

This group indeed needed it, and Leon Draisaitl, the third overall pick in 2014, factored in on all four goals. He was a beast.

Draisaitl scored on the PP, then assisted on the second and third goals before showing off his footspeed on a great backcheck in OT that led to Purcell’s winner.

Draisaitl has four goals and ten points in six games since being recalled from Bakersfield in the American Hockey League. Last night he was the Oilers’ best player, and his skill, size and speed is something this organization hasn’t had since Jason Arnott.

I was amazed at how many Oilers fans questioned the Oilers selecting him in 2014. The doubters questioned his heart and wanted “gritty” Canadian Sam Bennett instead. I never understood that rationale, because, if anything, Draisaitl was the quintessential Canadian. He moved across the world, landed in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to pursue his dream (playing in the NHL), and yet some still questioned his determination.

It is difficult for many Canadian 17-year-olds to move away from home to play Major Junior or Junior A, never mind to a foreign country where you don’t know a single person and your family can’t come visit you monthly. 

Draisaitl struggled in his rookie season. He tallied 2-7-9 in 37 NHL games. He wasn’t ready for the NHL, but he was rushed, because the Oilers inexplicably elected to enter training camp with only two NHL centres, so Draisailt was forced to play. The doubters said, “I told you so,” before the Oilers finally wised up and sent Draisaitl back to the Western Hockey League.

The good news for Draisaitl was he realized he needed to improve his first step to play in the NHL. His top-end speed was fine, but he needed to become more explosive, and since being recalled it is clear his hard work this off-season paid off.

Draisaitl is the big, skilled forward the Oilers have been missing. He is only going to get stronger, but he’s already able to protect the puck with his big frame and win battles that smaller players simply can’t. His one-handed pass to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last night was a great example.

He looks very comfortable on the wing, but when he is ready I expect we will see him become a centre. He reminds me of Anze Kopitar, and in a year or two I see him as a centre. Draisaitl is much bigger than TV portrays him. He is a big man with broad shoulders and not only did he improve his explosiveness in the summer, he added muscle to his beefy frame.

Draisaitl was the best player on the ice last night, and it wasn’t just because of his linemates, Taylor Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. He displayed his complete arsenal of skills throughout the game: Quick shot, strong along the boards, great passing and excellent speed.

QUICK HITS…

  • I loved watching Darnell Nurse not back down from Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf gave him a shove and wack and Nurse gave it right back. Nurse will be the emotional leader of this team in the future, possibly as early as late this year, and after watching the Oilers turn the other cheek for so long, his actions were a welcome change.
  • Sekera had another solid game and his stretch-pass-off-the-boards was outstanding. He is starting to look more comfortable and his improved play couldn’t have come at a better time.

  • Sometimes you have to credit the opposition for a great play. Sami Vatanen’s pinch that led to Corey Perry’s second goal of the game was a thing of beauty. Not only did he anticipate the pass up the wall perfectly, he also avoided Yakupov’s contact and was able to move the puck quickly and accurately. His play didn’t allow the Oilers defence to get back in front of the goal. Mark Letestu left the slot because he was supposed to support the winger. The play happened so fast the Oilers didn’t have time to recover, but I’d credit Vatanen with an incredible play before shredding the Oilers. Certain times we need to recognize the other team made a great play.
  • He didn’t score, but Anton Lander had a few very good scoring chances. I can’t recall him having any good chances in the first 15 games, so maybe it is a sign he might awaken from his horrific offensive slump.
  • Benoit Pouliot is sick, so the Oilers recalled Anton Slepyshev. It is rare nowadays, but the with Pouliot’s injury the Oilers now have three right shot wingers and Yakupov to play on their second and third lines, and Yakupov prefers the left side. The Purcell/Lander/Eberle line created a few good scoring chances last night, and I wonder if McLellan just slides Slepyshev into Pouliot’s spot or if he alters his second and third lines.

  • The 4th line had a great night. They drew two penalties and even created some chances. Also, loved Gazdic getting after Maroon after his idiotic hit on Pakarinen.
  • I know the stats suggest it is risky to start goalies on back-to-back nights, but some coaches do it and they have success. Last year Cam Talbot played both games of BTB sets three times and he went 2-0-1 in the second game. He had a combined .934sv% in those three games.

    Anders Nilsson was excellent last night, especially in the first period, and I understand why McLellan is going back to him. You can’t always go with the numbers, sometimes a coach has to go with his gut.

    I tweeted out this question after the game, and 64% of you agree with McLellan.

LINEUP…

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Oilers lineup courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com

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Coyotes lineup courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From Five for Howling

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers are bad this season. They currently sit near the bottom of the Western Conference, in front of only Calgary and Colorado.

The team’s fortunes seemed to be changing for the Oilers before this season. They drafted Connor McDavid, brought in Peter Chiarelli to be general manager, Todd McLellan to be the new coach, and Cam Talbot to hopefully end their problems in the crease. They also now have two former Coyotes with Rob Klinkhammer and Lauri Korpikoski. So far none of that has worked.

The Oilers may have proven themselves to be the unluckiest team in the NHL this season. Franchise draft pick Connor McDavid broke his collarbone in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers and is likely to miss a few months. Granted the Oilers are still stacked with talented forwards, but losing McDavid is a serious blow.

    TONIGHT….

    GDB17

    GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers lost all five games to the Coyotes last year. They stop that streak tonight with a 5-3 victory.

    OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall tallies two points. He has 18 points in 17 career games vs. the Coyotes.

    NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Mark Fayne has 15 career goals in 329 career games, but he lights up the Coyotes. He has three goals in nine games vs. Arizona/Phoenix and he scores his first goal in 31 games this evening.

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