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World Championship

Leon Draisaitl of Oilers becoming face of hockey in Germany

Edmonton forward hero in home country at World Championship

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

COLOGNE, Germany -- There wasn't a moment's hesitation from forward Leon Draisaitl in his decision to join Germany at the 2017 World Hockey Championship once the Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not when Draisaitl was truly going to get to play on home ice, in his hometown of Cologne.

"I grew up here, started playing hockey here," said Draisaitl, whose team was eliminated from the tournament with a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Canada on Thursday. "I think it's special."

The Anaheim Ducks eliminated Draisaitl and the Oilers in Game 7 in the Western Conference Second Round on May 10, and he played his first game for Germany in the tournament at Lanxess Arena three days later.

Canada will play Russia in one semifinal Saturday (9:15 a.m. ET; NHLN), and Sweden will face Finland in the other (1:15 p.m. ET; NHLN). The bronze and gold medal games are Sunday.

"He just wanted to play," said Marco Sturm, Germany's coach and veteran of 938 games with six NHL teams. "He was very excited during the season when I talked to him a few times. I knew as soon as they were out he was going to be here the next day. I think he really enjoys it, too, speaking German in the locker room again and hanging out with a few of his old friends. It means a lot."

As much as it may mean to Draisaitl, it means more to Germany. Though he's all of 21, Draisaitl has established himself as the new face of hockey in his country.

Video: ANA@EDM, Gm6: Draisaitl opens scoring on the rush

"He's a superstar," said New York Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, a teammate with Germany who has played 831 NHL games during a 14-year career. "I think since Marco, he's the guy who really knows how to score. He's a power forward in the NHL. Him and [Connor] McDavid and whomever they play with are one of the best lines in the league. There's no reason why kids shouldn't look up to him. He's the guy. He's awesome.

"It just shows it. He lost Game 7 and the next day he was here. Playing for Germany is very important to him. Every kid watches those games and look up to him and one day they want to be like him."

Draisaitl emerged as a premier player in the NHL this season, finishing eighth in scoring with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists). His 16 playoff points (six goals, 10 assists) still rank third and are the most among non-active playoff participants.

The standout season has helped push Draisaitl to seventh all-time in scoring by a German player with 137 points (50 goals, 87 assists) in 191 NHL games.

He was named one of Germany's top three players in the tournament, despite dressing for just three of its eight games and finishing with two assists.

"He's one of a kind, right?" said Sturm, who leads all Germany-born NHL players with 487 points (242 goals, 245 assists). "Unfortunately we don't have too many of him. Even right now it's great to have him here because hopefully a lot of kids … we need more kids playing hockey at a younger age … hopefully a lot of people will watch TV and see a guy like Draisaitl play and choose the game of hockey instead of soccer."

For longtime NHL defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who served as Germany's captain, Draisaitl can help make that happen.

Video: ANA@EDM, Gm6: Draisaitl spins, scores on backhand

"Oh for sure," said Ehrhoff, now playing with Kölner Haie in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga after a 12-year, 789-game NHL career. "He's our best player right now; for me already he's one of the top players in the world and he showed that this year. For him, he's only going to get better.

"It's really good for German hockey. Right now there's a lot of focus on the World Championship here. For a young hockey player growing up or people that want to play hockey, it's a big bonus that he's here."

Draisaitl is ready to embrace that challenge, though he's not sure he considers himself an elite player in his home country.

"Am I a big star here? I don't know," said Draisaitl, who has represented Germany at the World Under-17 Challenge, twice at the World Under-18 Championship, twice at the World Junior Championship, and now three times at the World Championship. "I don't think so. I don't consider myself a star.

"I think every player wants to be a role model for young kids. If I can be that, I'd love to."

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