Despite the fact that Leon Draisaitl has eclipsed Nail Yakupov, ranked sixth in this edition of the Top 25 Under 25, in the minds of the Copper & Blue staff, he remains fourth on the list—but only because of the dawn of a new era in Oilers hockey, the coming of Connor McDavid who has jumped the entire system in terms of promise and potential.
That's not to suggest that the big German pivot has stagnated development-wise over the past year. After failing to establish himself at the NHL level after a 37 game stretch with the Oilers, during which he posted 2-7-9, he went back to the WHL and picked up where he'd left off the previous season, this time with a new team in the Kelowna Rockets.
He posted an almost identical point-per-game total to his draft season in half as many games, scoring at a 19-34-53 in 32 games for a point per game average of 1.66, which is close to exactly half of the 38-67-105 he posted over 64 games in his draft year. He also managed 10-18-28 in 19 WHL playoff games and 4-3-7 in five Memorial Cup matches.
All in all, after a rocky start in the NHL that saw him miss his shot at representing Germany at the World Junior Championships for a second time, Leon Draisaitl had a very respectable season in 2014-2015, taking on a leadership role with the Kelowna Rockets and helping them to a Memorial Cup berth. This is invaluable experience for a young hockey player.
As the chart below shows (the bubble colouring represents Corsi Rel), even at the NHL level last year, he showed that he could hold his own in a sheltered role, getting a heavy zone start push and facing middling competition. The challenge for him will be to come into camp this year and prove that he can be a difference maker who can produce offence on the powerplay and at evens, likely still in sheltered minutes.
Edmonton has enough veterans on the roster right now to fill the bottom-six, but if Leon can come in and show that he's ready for another crack at the NHL, then we might see him on regular season Rexall ice as early as October.
The likelier scenario is that he ends up with the Condors to begin the season and find his feet again at the professional level. Scott Reynolds recently did a write up on what we can expect from Draisaitl at the AHL level, and it's absolutely worth a read.
"If Draisaitl has 18 points in 30 games by Christmas, he'll be hitting the minimum bar offensively. Less than that would, frankly, be a very worrying result. Something between 24 and 27 points in 30 games would be about average, and probably puts Draisaitl on track to be a very good NHL player. But if we're going to continue talking about Draisaitl as a star we'll probably want to see a point per game or better, which would require a translation of at least 63%, right at the top of the players of his age group and league but also right at the bottom of the four elite guys in the group. Basically, if Draisaitl starts the year in the AHL, we should get a decent read on his offensive potential relatively soon."
Oilers fans will get a chance to see the big German at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, beginning tonight and ending on Monday, September 14th. It will be interesting to see if the Oilers try him on the wing with a guy like Connor McDavid, and if so, how comfortable he looks at the position.
McDavid can make anyone look comfortable anywhere on the ice, but Draisaitl is no slouch himself, and they could make for a totally dominant combination this weekend against the other rookie squads.