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Leon Draisaitl takes next step with Oilers

Forward played huge role in first round of Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Two factors, a flu bug and zero games of Stanley Cup Playoffs experience, conspired to keep Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl fairly quiet early in the Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks.

The 21-year-old from Cologne, Germany, and the No. 3 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, navigated his way around each obstacle and was a game-changer for the Oilers, helping lift them win the best-of-7 series 4-2.

 

[RELATED: Complete Oilers vs. Ducks series coverage]

 

Draisaitl had two key assists in the Oilers' come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win in Game 5, including on David Desharnais' game-winning goal, and also got the Oilers off and running with the first goal of Game 6 that ended up a 3-1 victory.

The Oilers have begun preparing for the Western Conference Second Round series against the Anaheim Ducks, which begins at Honda Center on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

"He's probably one of the most underrated players in the NHL," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. "Whatever it was [he had], he just didn't have it in the first little bit [of the series]. He certainly found his game."

Draisaitl uttered not a word of complaint about his health, nor the difficulty of his first NHL playoff series.

"The first couple of games, I didn't play the way I wanted to play, or the way I expected myself to play," he said. "Didn't really play my game. After that, I just said, 'Refocus, and get back to playing your game,' and the last two games were pretty good, I thought."

What's his game?

"I moved my feet," he said. "I skated. I protected pucks. I played my game. I think, for me personally, that's what I have to do."

Draisaitl's style off the ice is understated, bordering on quiet.

Oilers forward Patrick Maroon said the behind-the-scenes picture of Draisaitl is a little different.

"He's a good, fun-loving guy, jokes around with the guys," Maroon said. "He's a happy guy and a good teammate to have. Everybody's going to be looking up to him in the next two to three years. Give him two to three years, veteran status and he's going to be a leader on this team. He's already taking off to be a leader on the ice, proven to be a leader on the ice. He can take over games. When he brings his work ethic to the game, people get up and they get excited.

"He's intense. When the pads are on, like you said, he's pretty much quiet. He goes out there and tries to play his game. We're glad to have him and Connor on our team because they're both game-changers."

Draisaitl's took his game to another level this season. He finished eighth in League in scoring with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) in 82 games, playing the majority of the time at right wing with McDavid and Maroon.

Video: EDM@SJS, Gm6: Draisaitl goes five-hole on break

Oilers coach Todd McLellan has spoken frequently this season about Draisaitl's desire to be more than just McDavid's wing man.

"You probably can't measure the drive that he has," McLellan said Monday. "He's determined to be one of the best players, not just on our team, but in the League. He takes his craft very seriously. He wears his emotions, and I think he's getting better at dealing with those things.

"And when it's not going well for him, he's found ways to produce. Throw that in with his skillset and his confidence and his size, he becomes a pretty formidable player."

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice witnessed Draisaitl's resourcefulness with Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, where Maurice was an assistant coach and Draisaitl was Team Europe's youngest player.

"I really enjoyed spending time with Leon," Maurice said. "He's a young man that wants to get better. I just think Leon has enormous, enormous upside, and what you're seeing is that he's finding a way. He's just learning the game, what works and doesn't, and what his strengths are.

"At the World Cup, in a three-to-four-week span, he figured out the game being played, what his teammates were good at and where he could help and he became an important player for [Team Europe] by the end of it."

Maurice sees great things in Draisaitl's future.

"I think he's a very bright player," he said. "He's going to be a star, even with Connor McDavid on the same team. The guy is special, at center or wing, and he can be that kind of quiet wing man every team in the League would look at as the prototype winger, big and he skates. He will become more physical, I'm sure, and he brings so many good things."

Those were revealed when it really counted in the first round.

"He played a man's game in the last two games," Oilers goalie Cam Talbot said. "You can see how he fought off (Justin Braun) on the breakaway [in Game 6] and shoveled it five-hole. And in Game 5, the pass on the second goal backdoor to [Mark Letestu] and on the overtime winner [to Desharnais], he's so good at protecting pucks and making those little passes that not many guys can make, including on their backhands.

"The way he's grown and become a leader in this room is a special feeling for him and we're lucky to have him."

Against the Ducks, Draisaitl nodded on the likelihood of a more physical, nastier series than in the first round, and of facing Ducks center Ryan Kesler, a Selke Trophy finalist.

"They're going to try to shut us down," Draisaitl said. "It wasn't any different in the regular season. We know that they're going to try to get them out against us as much as possible and we've handled it all year and we'll be able to handle it again.

"We had heated meetings with those guys, and I don't expect anything less than that. It's going to be really intense and both teams have big guys that like to be physical. I'm sure it'll be an exciting matchup."

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