Leon Draisaitl is used to fine tuning his game and building chemistry with his Edmonton Oilers teammates at this time of the year.
The star forward is usually wrapping up pre-season hockey by the end of September. But this is 2020.
This year, Draisaitl and hundreds of other NHLers are spread out around the globe, wondering when — and where — they’ll play their next game.
“It’s different,” Draisaitl said Tuesday from his home in Cologne, Germany.
“But you try to manage it the best that you can. And obviously when they call, you have to be ready.”
The 24-year-old admitted that the murky future is odd for athletes, who generally thrive on routine.
It’s not new for NHL players, however, who already spent several months contemplating what the end of this season would look like after the league went on pandemic-induced hiatus in March.
“You kind of just get used to it. You make the best of it,” Draisaitl said. “There’s no excuses. Everyone’s in the same boat.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said next season could begin in mid-to-late December or January. While this year’s playoffs were played in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, many players have said they don’t want to spend an entire season in isolation. Discussions about the format for next year’s campaign are scheduled to begin between the league and the NHL Players Association soon.
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Amid the uncertainty, Draisaitl is trying to stick to the same training and nutrition regimes he’d use in any other off season.
“We’re athletes. We have to eat healthy all the time, we have to work out. That’s our job,” he said. “So that’s not much of a change here. But you’ve just got to stay fit, stay healthy, stay in shape and try to manage your time as good as you can.”
COVID-19 cases are climbing in many parts of the world, but Draisaitl said the situation is good in Germany and that he’s still able to train with other athletes.
“It’s very safe,” he said. “They’re keeping it as healthy as possible.”
Staying in top shape is essential for Draisaitl, who led the league with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) through the regular season.
The feat earned him the Art Ross Trophy, and last week, he added the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award to his hardware haul.
The Hart is given to the player deemed by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to be the most valuable player to his team each year and the Ted Lindsay is passed out annually to the league’s most-outstanding player, as chosen by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association.
Normally, Draisaitl would have celebrated the honours with players from across the league at the NHL’s awards ceremony in Vegas.
This year, the news was announced at an empty Rogers Place in Edmonton. Back in Germany, it was the middle of the night and Draisaitl’s family was all sleeping, but congratulations poured in from around the NHL.
“My phone was going pretty crazy,” Draisaitl said with a smile.
Despite the accolades, the two-time all star feels his season ended too early.
The Oilers were second in the Pacific Division with a 37-25-9 record when the season stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic back in March.
When play resumed this summer, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated Edmonton from the post-season race in the qualifying round.
The Oilers have made the playoffs just once during Draisaitl’s six seasons in the league.
Draisaitl said that with the time change, he didn’t watch many full playoff games this year, but he did keep on top of what was happening and often watched highlights the next day.
Seeing other teams playing in his home arena was tough, he said.
“Obviously we wanted to be there. This time it didn’t work out that way, but I think we learned from it. And we’re going to come back next year and have more experience and be better,” Draisaitl said.
“It showed us that we weren’t quite ready to play playoff hockey. And that’s obviously something that we needed to have. And something that we need to learn.”