I was back in the homeland this week and couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out Connor McDavid in person at the open practice this morning. I thought I would share a few of my observations from the Orientation Camp session.
- First of all, the players one would expect to stand out certainly did during drills this morning. Darnell Nurse is an absolute beast, and word is he's put on 20 lbs. since the last time he showed up at Oilers camp. It showed as most of the competition on the ice looked to be well below Nurse's level. He looked almost unbeatable on rushes and in the corners, and more than once threw a big hit or got nasty with his teammates.
- Leon Draisaitl, who was on the ice with the second group this morning, looked similar to Nurse in that he consistently beat defenders in the various situations set up by the coaching staff. He also threw a number of big hits along the boards, which is a most-welcomed addition to the big man's game. One drill saw players backwards c-cut on one foot around the offensive zone circles while maintaing control of the puck, and Draisaitl looked absolutely fluid and under control. He's a special player who looks to have developed all the tools necessary to be successful. He also won a few hearts by tossing a puck over the glass to some kids during warm-up. What a sweetie.
- Connor McDavid is half-god. He finished a beautiful play on a 3-on-2 by tapping one out of the air at the goal mouth. His highlight moment was during the 1-on-3 rushes when he collected the puck along the boards in the defensive zone and proceeded to flat out beat all three defenders and go in on net.
- One drill saw players battle it out for position in the corner, with the offensive player trying to break away to the front of the net. Of course, the coaches pitted McDavid and Nurse against each other every single time, and each did an outstanding job of keeping the other at bay. McDavid is as agile and quick on his feet as they come, but Nurse's massive wingspan and excellent skating appeared to be enough to keep him in the corner. That said, McDavid did a fine job of keeping the bigger, stronger Nurse contained along the boards. He's deceivingly strong and has the balance to compete with bigger players.
- Loik Leveille went undrafted in June and was invited by the Oilers to Orientation Camp. The roster sheet listed him at five-foot-nine and a staggering 228 lbs. NHL.com lists him at six-feet, so I'm thinking there might have been a typo on the handouts at Rexall. Regardless, he looks THICK out there for an 18-year-old, and has some nice tools at his disposal. His skating needs some work, but he makes a hard and accurate pass and has a heavy shot; he scored 13-41-54 in 68 regular season games this season with Cape Breton of the QMJHL. He also looked impossible to knock off the puck as his centre of gravity is just so low. It will be interesting to see what Oilers brass makes of him during his time at camp.
- A 6th round draft pick in 2013, Ben Betker has a shot at a pro career. He's six-foot-six and 220 lbs, but controls the puck well and is developing a nice, smooth stride.
- Joey LaLeggia was another player who looked to be above the level of competition at the camp today. He's quick and shifty on his skates and has a hard shot and a lightning quick release. It will be interesting to see what the Hobey Baker finalist can do at the professional level. He signed his deal with the Oilers on March 31, 2015. After scoring 15-25-40 in 37 regular season games with the University of Denver this past season, LaLeggia went on to join the Barons at the end of their season, managing 1-1-2 in five regular season games, while being held pointless in two playoff outings.