PHILADELPHIA – It’s far from a coincidence that the Edmonton Oilers went big with the third pick in the NHL draft.
In taking German centre Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers added some much-needed size and depth at a position of great importance.
“It’s not a stretch to say we’re really happy and think that we filled a tremendous need for our hockey club and I think is going to have a real significant impact over time with our team,” general manager Craig MacTavish said Friday night. “You combine him with our No. 1 pick last year (Darnell Nurse), and we start to see some size and quite a bit of character continue to come into our dressing room.”
Beyond 2011 No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers are thin at centre. And in Draisaitl, the highest-drafted German in NHL history, they get a six-foot-one, 208-pound player who has drawn comparisons to Anze Kopitar and Jaromir Jagr.
Playing for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Draisaitl had 38 goals and 67 assists in 64 games this past season as he developed his defensive game and faceoff prowess. He’s from Cologne but came to develop in the Canadian junior system and will remain in North America this summer to train.
There are still things Draisaitl believes he needs to improve this off-season but the physically mature 18-year-old also thinks he’ll be ready to play in the NHL in 2014-15. MacTavish can’t make such a guarantee.
“Obviously we project the team to be much more productive and much deeper than we were this year, and that’ll be a significant factor,” he said. “We want to make sure that if we do put young kids into our lineup that they have a chance to have success, and that’ll be a big factor along with how well he adapts to the NHL game at training camp.”
Just having a chance to earn a spot at training camp is a nice opportunity for Draisaitl, who understands he won’t just be handed a job playing alongside Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
“I’m going to have to do my job and earn my spot if I want to play in that league and on that team,” Draisaitl said. “I think they’re moving forward for sure and they made some good trades, (David) Perron, and the guys are getting older and more mature. This is just awesome right now.”
Draisaitl was thrilled to put on the same orange and blue of Edmonton stars of the past, most of whom had their primes before he was born.
“They’ve had so many great players on their team: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, MacTavish—all those guys are stars in the league, and wearing the same jersey as they do is unbelievable,” he said.
MacTavish joked that he owed Draisaitl $100 for dropping his name in that group. More importantly for the GM’s current job, he hopes Draisaitl can develop into an important piece of this already young core.
Draisaitl fills a specific role, too, as the Oilers seek a variety of talent at forward.
“(He) protects the puck and is a real offensive-zone player,” MacTavish said. “We’ve got a lot of skill, but we’re in need of somebody down low that’s capable of sustaining the play. We have David Perron that fits that bill and now Leon will be a guy that can really protect the puck.”
If Draisaitl develops as scouts expect, he would slot in as the Oilers’ No. 2 centre of the future. His size mixed with Hall’s speed could be a tantalizing combination.
“He’s probably the fastest skater in the league and he’s an exciting player to watch,” Draisaitl said. “It might be a good fit, but you never know.”
MacTavish would love to spend Saturday adding more depth to the organization, but the Oilers don’t have a second- or a third-round pick after trades for Perron and goaltender Ben Scrivens. And he doesn’t expect to be able to get into the second.
“We’ll be sitting on our hands, it looks like, through the second or third round,” MacTavish said. “Hopefully the scouts can pull a few of those impact players out of the later picks.”
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