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Oilers forward Draisaitl aims for full-time NHL role

by Aaron Vickers

PENTICTON, British Columbia -- Leon Draisaitl is a year older, a year wiser, and a year further along in his development, but his goal remains the same.

The 19-year-old forward wants to become a full-time member of the Edmonton Oilers.

"It's the same mindset at last year," Draisaitl told at the Young Stars Classic tournament. "I want to establish myself as a full-time NHL player. That's my goal. That's what I worked for all summer. Putting in all this work, you don't do it for nothing. You want to make the team and then you want to impress people. That's what I'm here for."

It was a goal he came close to realizing last season.

Draisaitl was three months removed from being the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft when he cracked the Oilers roster out of camp last fall. He played 37 games before Edmonton determined his development was better served at the junior level. After a trade from Prince Albert to Kelowna, Draisaitl landed back in the Western Hockey League.

"He got a lot of experience last year," said Bob Green, Edmonton director of player personnel. "He's going to be a lot smarter. With him going to Kelowna, he had the chance to go on a run and go right to the Memorial Cup Final. He got a taste of playoff hockey. He got a taste of both worlds. He came to camp with a good attitude and he wants to make the team. He was in good shape. It's just a part of the maturing process for him."

It was a decision the native of Cologne, Germany, ultimately agreed with.

"It's never easy to get into a new team or switch teams or whatever it is," said Draisaitl, who scored twice and had nine points with the Oilers. "But at the same time, it wasn't that hard. Going to Kelowna was a good move for myself, and it helped me in my development."

Draisaitl had 19 goals and 53 points in 32 regular-season games for the Rockets, and then scored 10 goals and had 28 points in 19 playoff games to help Kelowna win the WHL championship. He then led the Rockets to the final of the Memorial Cup, earning the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as most valuable player although his team lost to Oshawa.

"It's completely different in the NHL as opposed to the Western Hockey League as far as the approach day in, day out, the conditioning, the strength and just knowing it. For half a year he lived it and he understands it," Green said. "There are a lot of things he doesn't have to learn this year. That's going to help him in the short term, and we'll see what happens with him."

But Draisaitl's bid to return to Edmonton might force him to change positions. With the addition of Connor McDavid to a group of centers that includes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Letestu and Anton Lander, Draisaitl's best option to start in Edmonton might come on the wing.

"Leon, he can't worry about that," Green said of a possible position change. "He has to worry about showing up at the rink every day, working hard, having a great camp and making those decisions tough. That's all he can do."

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound natural center said he is willing to move to wing in the hopes it helps him return to the NHL. Having nearly half a season in the NHL under his belt undoubtedly will help.

"I think the experience of playing 37 games helped me a lot," Draisaitl said. "I know what it's like going through camp, and I know what it's like playing NHL games. That definitely helps me a lot. A ton. Playing in the best league in the world just helps. Experience, you get to know how to play the right way. It was very, very helpful for me."

How that experience translates remains to be seen. Draisaitl is looking forward to finding out when Oilers training camp begins next week.

"I'm very excited," he said. "That's when it really gets going. That's when the big guys and the big names come into play. That's when it matters the most. I think we're all looking forward to it."

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