On Oilers Now yesterday afternoon, Bob Stauffer discussed the idea of the Oilers sending Leon Draisaitl back to junior this season. This came out of the discussion surrounding the official announcement that Draisaitl would not be playing for the German team at the World Junior Hockey Championship this holiday season. I've gone through the podcasts - the show is split into four half hour segments - of the show, and for some reason I can't track down the exact quote, but basically his point was that Draisaitl has nothing left to learn in Prince Albert.
He actually repeated that a couple of times, which was a good thing because the "nothing left to learn in junior" thing drives me up the wall, but that's not what Stauffer was saying. He was saying he has nothing to learn in Price Albert, a team that is currently ninth in the WHL's Eastern Conference with 33 points in 35 games. A player of Draisaitl's calibre could easily be the difference between that club making the playoffs or not, but if the Oilers are going to return Draisaitl to junior it would make sense that they'd like to see him put into a position where a lengthy playoff run might be possible.
Going back to last summer I didn't think that Craig MacTavish's decision to bet on Draisaitl being able to handle second line minutes was a good idea, and I've written a couple of posts on this site about the stupidity of burning valuable entry level contracts years on players drafted the summer before. Had it been up to me I wouldn't have had him anywhere near this team on opening night, and of course the Oilers did the opposite. And here we are 33 games into his pro career and Draisaitl has two goals and five assists. To be completely fair though, those totals are misleading because his 4.62% on-ice shooting percentage has likely robbed him of a few points along the way and helped to keep his point total down.
Regardless of the goals and assists though, it's fairly clear at this point in the season that he needs to be heavily sheltered to be successful. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but because the team also has Mark Arcobello in the lineup on a nightly basis, one of those two ends up playing over their heads and the team suffers as a result. Taking on soft minutes while playing on the third line is the perfect role for both of them, only one of them can play in that role at a time though. So logically then, the Oilers need to find a way to replace one of them. Which, if rumours are to be believed, they've been trying to do, but have so far had no luck.
But even if a trade was made tomorrow, unless the Oilers also get a DeLorean along with a centre, it's not going to make any difference this year. Which brings us back to Draisaitl and returning him to junior. This season is done for the Oilers, over the next four months this team is going to lose a lot more games than they're going to win, and considering that Draisaitl is struggling a little right now it makes no sense to have him here for the team's annual Death March. Not only could the team put him a position to enjoy some success and gain some confidence, but they'd also push back his reaching unrestricted free agency by a year to the summer of 2022 if he's sent back before playing in his 40th game this season (that's January 4 if you were wondering). That's a win-win.
Prince Albert might not be the Oilers' preferred destination for their 2014 first round pick, but that's not something that they can control. When the calendars turn to 2015 the Oilers are going to have to make a decision about this. Do they admit that they were wrong about playing Drasaitl playing in the NHL this season and salvage what they can out of the situation, or do they double down and blast ahead, to hell with the consequences. I wouldn't have had him in the NHL to start with so you certainly know what I think.