Leon Draisaitl arrived in Edmonton late in the afternoon on October 29th, two days after his 20th birthday. It was a long travel day from Bakersfield. He had missed his usual pregame nap, and when he arrived at the rink he was feeling sluggish but excited to be back in the NHL. He was slotted on the right wing with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and ended up playing 19:59. He scored two goals including the game winner in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
Very few expected Draisaitl to make an such an impact in his first game, but little did we know it was just the beginning of what would be an outstanding 25-game stretch.
Draisaitl tallied ten points in his first six games, and as the Oilers head into the Christmas break Draisaitl has 9-21-30 in 25 games and is tied for 21st in league scoring, despite playing 7-10 fewer games than every other top scorer. He is fourth in the NHL in points-per-game at 1.2.
Draisaitl struggled in 37 games last season, scoring only two goals and nine points before being sent back to junior. He wasn’t ready for the NHL, but he learned a lot in those 37 games, mainly that he needed to be stronger.
“I think I was a good skater, but I wasn’t a strong enough skater,” explained Draisaitl as we sat in his stall discussing his excellent start and his new found speed.
“What I mean by that is I wasn’t strong enough to skate at NHL speed for long stretches. I could go fast for 15 to 20 seconds, but I couldn’t maintain it. To play and succeed with men you need to be strong, and that is what I focused on this summer,” said Draisaitl.
Draisaitl was drafted third overall in 2014, behind Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart, after scoring 38 goals and 105 points in 64 games with the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League. He was the big skilled centre the Oilers have lacked every since trading Jason Arnott to the New Jersey Devils on January 4th, 1998.
At 6’2 and 215 pounds Draisaitl has the size to compete against men, but during his brief time in the NHL last year he realized he needed to get stronger. His father Peter set him up with trainer Marian Voda, who worked for him when he was the head coach of Hradec Kralove (he was fired a few weeks ago) in the Czech Elite
Draisaitl spent the summer training with Voda in the Czech Republic, and I wanted to find out more about his productive off-season.
In order to improve your skating stride or gait you need to be on the ice, but Voda didn’t believe that was the issue, and instead focused on making Draisaitl stronger.
“We definitely focused on off ice training. I think he (Voda) just understood what I needed to do and what I have to
work on. As weird as it sounds, he was the best thing that could have happened
to me this summer. I worked on my legs every single day. Every day it was something
different. It was never the same, it never got boring, it was always different
drills, different everything, he was always being creative,” explained Draisaitl.
Let’s go into specifics, I asked. What did you work on specifically?
“Everything. I did one leg squat, heavy squat, lunges, step
up on boxes with weights, hill sprints, coordination stuff and quick feet
training with and without weights. My legs burned some days, but the next day he’d find a new way to challenge me. The one-legged squats really helped,” Draisaitl continued.
Draisaitl focused mainly on his lower body, although they did back and chest the odd day to rest his legs.
He wasn’t skating in the first few months of the summer, but he was confident his training was working and he was getting stronger.
“I could tell just from my legs,” said Draisaitl as he pointed to his bulging quads. ” They were way bigger. My
weight kept going up. I was able to run more hill springs, do more one-leg squats with
heavier weight and I just kept progressing which is what you want in the
Players get applauded or criticized for their play on game nights, but the successful players put in most of the work away from the spotlight. It happens in the summer when no one is watching and it takes a lot of discipline and self-drive to become a great player.
I asked Draisailt about his internal drive and work ethic. He has sacrificed a lot to make it to the NHL. He moved across the world to the prairies of Saskatchewan to chase his dream. He left his parents when he was 16 and barely saw them for two years. Very few people, never mind a teenager, are willing to make that type of sacrifice.
“I think that is just how I am,” shrugged Draisaitl when I asked about his work ethic. ” I want to be the best player
I can possibly be. I want to do that every night and be threat every night.
think a lot has to do with my family as
well. My dad, even though when he played he wasn’t like that, because the time
was a little different and he didn’t know what it takes, but now when he is
coaching he is the hardest working guy I have ever seen. He wakes up at six in
the morning and watches every game over and over again and tries to be the best
coach he can possibly be, so I think my work ethic comes from my family,” continued Draisaitl.
A fantastic 25 games does not make a career, and Draisailt feels he has a lot of room to improve.
“My trainer told me I have a lot of room to
grow. I have a lot of speed to put on and a lot of strength to gain. I do look
forward to the summer and gaining more strength and explosiveness,” he smiled.
His added strength has done wonders for his confidence, which last year after 25 games was non-existent. When you combine his natural puck handling skills and hockey smarts with more speed and a huge boost of confidence you get 30 points in 25 games.
“I think it (confidence) goes together with my improved speed and now I know I have the ability to beat guys and be a threat out there. It gives me confidence
and even more confidence to make plays and attack defenders,” said Draisailt.
For those wondering, Draisaitl did do some on-ice training in the summer, but not nearly as much as you’d think considering how he has dominated the NHL this year.
“About three solid weeks on the ice late in the summer. I did a lot of skating drills.
Marian is unbelievable. We get along well and I think he is a perfect fit for
me. I’m really happy my father recommended him, he really wanted me to work with Marian and it paid off,” Draisaitl said.
I’ve rarely seen a player look so much more comfortable from one year to the next than Draisaitl, and I’m very curious to see how much more his game will grow with a few more summers of training.
DAY 16: MONTH OF GIVING
Thank you Greg and Derek for their bids yesterday and to the Oil Kings, Eskimos and ATB for the packages.
- You and five of your friends will have dinner at Vivo Ristorante with Ryan Smyth, Matt Hendricks and their wives.
- You will be picked up in and driven home in a Blue Sky Limo.
The package includes an eight-course meal and all of your wine and beverages.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The MS Society.
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