PHILADELPHIA – Leon Draisaitl would’ve been happy to put on any team’s jersey early in the NHL draft, but donning the Edmonton Oilers’ traditional orange and blue as the No. 3 pick meant something special.
“They’ve had so many great players on their team: Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, (Craig) MacTavish – all those guys are stars in the league, and wearing the same jersey as they do is unbelievable,” the German centre said.
MacTavish, the general manager in charge of trying to get the Oilers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, made sure to fill a need by taking Draisaitl. At six-foot-one and 201 pounds, he brings some much-needed size at a position Edmonton is thin at after 2011 No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Playing for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Draisaitl earned comparisons to Anze Kopitar and Jaromir Jagr. He had 38 goals and 67 assists in 64 games this past season as he developed his defensive game and faceoff prowess.
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.
Even on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs with this core, Draisaitl knows he won’t be handed a job.
“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,” he 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.”
The Oilers gave up their second-round pick Saturday in last year’s trade with the St. Louis Blues for Perron. And they traded their third-rounder to Los Angeles for Ben Scrivens.
That naturally puts more pressure on Draisaitl, but moving forward he’ll be one part of young group that includes Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
“They have a really talented young group there, and I think they want to be good,” Draisaitl said. “Their players are young, but they’re almost already stars in the league. To join them is great.”
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.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014