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Oilers send center Draisaitl back to junior hockey

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers on Sunday assigned center Leon Draisaitl to the Canadian Hockey League.

The Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League currently own Draisaitl's junior rights, but they are expected to trade him to the Kelowna Rockets at the conclusion of the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships.

Draisaitl, 19, scored two goals and seven assists in 37 games for the Oilers this season. Sending Draisaitl back to junior prior to his 40th NHL game keep him from expending a year toward unrestricted free agency.

"We wish Leon the best going back to junior," Oilers coach Todd Nelson said. "The short time that I had to work with Leon was a pleasure. I thought his game improved over the time that he was here. It's a good opportunity to hone his skills, be a better hockey player and become a more confident guy."

Draisaitl was selected third by the Oilers in the 2014 NHL Draft. He scored 38 goals and 67 assists in 64 games with Prince Albert last season.

"In a lot of ways [going back to junior] it's like a trade, you build relationships with guys and you become close as a team and that's probably the toughest part for him," Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle said. "At the end of the day, however, I think he's going to go down there, play well and light it up. [Kelowna] have a good team as well. Hopefully, he does well, gains some confidence and he can build on that for next year."

Kelowna is first in the WHL standings (31-6-3) and is expected to contend for a league championship. Edmonton is 30th in the NHL standings.

"Anytime you're on a winning team, you feel better and you do better," Eberle said. "I can remember when I was 19, I was upset when I was sent down [Regina Pats] but looking back on it, it was probably one of the best things for me. When you go back you gain confidence. I'm sure he'll be one of the better players in that league and he can use that confidence coming into training camp [next season]."

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