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Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl proud to win Art Ross, eager to keep building his game

Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates after scoring a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky).
Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates after scoring a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky). AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

The Art Ross Trophy belongs to Leon Draisaitl as the NHL’s leading scorer. What about the Hart as the league’s most valuable player?

“I don’t pay too much attention to Hart Trophy race, to be honest with you,” Draisaitl said on a conference call on Friday. “Of course, it would be a big honour to win it or even come close to being in the race.”

Draisaitl, 24, officially claimed the scoring title on Tuesday when the NHL declared the regular season over. He wound up with 110 points in 71 games, leading the league with 67 assists. While he came into the league with a reputation as a play-maker, he’s also become an elite goal scorer: 50 goals last season; 43 this year.

READ MORE: NHL players face imperfections but excitement in league’s return-to-play plan

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“I think I’ve always kind of been more of the pass-first type of guy, but I knew early on in my career in the NHL that I have to be a threat to shoot once in a while, too, otherwise I’m too predictable,” said Draisaitl.

“It’s something I’ve worked on constantly during the summer, in season.”

“He just continues to work,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “He worked all summer to put himself in a position to come in and have success.”

Draisaitl finished 13 points ahead of teammate Connor McDavid in the scoring race. He joins McDavid and Wayne Gretzky as the only Oilers to win the Art Ross.

“He gives me nice passes, so that definitely helps me out,” chuckled McDavid. “What he’s done for our group has been great. A lot was made of us playing together or not playing together. He just gives us that kind of different look.”

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McDavid and Draisaitl were linemates for the first half of the season, but after New Year’s Eve, Draisaitl played mostly with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. The success of that trio further thrust Draisaitl into the spotlight.

“Every year he’s taken a big jump,” said Oilers defenceman Matt Benning. “I think this year he really embraced a leadership role and wanted to be the go-to guy.

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“His confidence — it wasn’t cockiness — it was confidence. He had a swagger about himself. That really helps. He made players around him better.”

Draisaitl agrees that he’s become more of a leader over the last two seasons.

“When you’re young, there’s not much for you to say. Your play on the ice doesn’t play as a big of a role, have as big of an impact, as it does now, being 24 years old, being in the league for a while,” Draisaitl explained.

“You change as a player, you change as a person a bit. It’s been great to stick around the same group of guys for so many years.”

Draisaitl and the Oilers now look ahead to their qualifying round series against Chicago, which is at least a couple of months away as part of the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

The Oilers and their fans dream of a long playoff run. Draisaitl will be a spark for any success the team has.

“You dream of these things, but until you do it, it seems so far away. I’m proud, in a way, of course, but I know I still have lots of things to work on,” he said.

“I know I have lots of things to improve and I’m looking to do that every year.”

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