If there were ever any doutbs about Leon Draisaitl’s toughness, those have all been thrown out the window.
While finishing the 2022 playoffs one point back of teammate Connor McDavid for the lead in scoring, Draisaitl played through a vicious high ankle sprain suffered in a game against the LA Kings.
Kings rearguard Mikey Anderson had hauled Draisaitl down from behind in a scrum injuring the superstar’s ankle in game six of their opening round series. Last week, Draisaitl joined Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on the 32 Thoughts Podcast where he spoke about what he was going through.
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“Obviously it was a high ankle sprain. I think everyone knew that. The second I would catch it in a game, just a toe would get stuck or I twisted in a direction where normally it does nothing, the pain would just shoot right up my body and take all my energy out. It was definitely painful, very painful. It was a lot of treatment going on. Like I said, there was obviously a lot of guys who played through injury. It was something I had to deal with — and it took me a little while to get the hang of it with changing my game a little bit. The game after I was trying to push off, I just had no pop, no jump and I was getting frustrated with it. I was like ‘I can’t beat guys, I don’t know what to do now.’  I’m not the best skater in the world to begin with, but I just had to change my game a little bit, slow it down even more, if that’s even possible.
“It was interesting though. I liked it because I had to change my game and it kind of showed me there’s a way I can become better in a way with doing almost less. I was very interested by that part of the game that when you’re healthy, you try and play your best, you try and play with speed, you try and play fast. I didn’t have that to my game. I tried to find a way to be productive in a different way. I thought I did a pretty good job of it.”
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Draisaitl said he had a few other minor things going on heading into the playoffs, but it was nothing major and nothing like the injury he suffered.
“I actually think I got really lucky (with the injury against the Kings). I heard a pop right away because I fell back and if you watch it, you can see my leg getting stuck there. It was scary because I’ve been very fortunate with staying healthy so far. It was a big mental thing for me to still be productive with playing injured. I’ve never really been injured in my career so far, knock on wood. It evolved me as a player a little bit.”
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The game after he was injured, Draisaitl said he was close to not playing in that game seven match.
“I actually skated in the morning on the other ice to try and test it out and it was awful. It was so bad. I could barely stand up. But then the adrenaline kicks in. You’re warming up and you see 10,000 people in the stands already. It becomes a lot easier.”
Jokingly, Draisaitl said he loved that every other team the Oilers faced stayed away from his injury — something that the NHL was monitoring.
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“I was laughing when we played the Flames and some of them started hacking my left ankle. I was like ‘I don’t know what you’re doing.'”
As a whole, Draisatil had a tremendous playoff stretch and quite honestly, maybe one of the most impressive playoff performances of all time. In 16 games, he scored seven goals and 32 points. After scoring eight points in the first six games against the Kings, Draisaitl ended up putting up two goals and 24 points in the final 10 playoff games. In games two through five against the Flames, he scored a wild 14 points.
It’s really interesting it hear Draisaitl speak about how he had to change his game around and I wonder how much of that will carry over to next year. There have been times in the past where we’ve seen Draisaitl try to do too much and look frustrated on the ice, but maybe this experience in the playoffs can help shift his mind away from those moments.
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Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]