EDMONTON — During his brief time coaching this season, Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish saw the extent of rookie center Leon Draisaitl's frustration with his play.
However, MacTavish would only contemplate sending Draisaitl, 19, back to junior if a contending Western Hockey League team owned his rights. Edmonton did not want Draisaitl returning to the Prince Albert Raiders this season.
"I had a real specific destination for Leon in mind and I talked to [Raiders GM] Bruno Campese saying it was very unlikely that he would be reassigned back to P.A.," MacTavish said on Tuesday. "At one of those conversations I said to Bruno that I had this specific situation that I thought was going to be ideal for Leon and if that situation was satisfied, there would be a likelihood that we would send him back."
Oilers GM Craig MacTavish saw the extent of rookie center Leon Draisaitl's frustration with his play but would only send him to a contending WHL team. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tuesday, the WHL announced Prince Albert traded Draisaitl's rights to the Kelowna Rockets in exchange for European import left wing Kris Schmidli, defenseman Dalton Yorke, a first-round pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, a fourth round pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft and a conditional pick.
Kelowna (31-6-3) leads the WHL standings and are expected to contend for a league championship and a berth into the Memorial Cup.
The Oilers announced Draisaitl had been assigned to the Canadian Hockey League on Sunday.
"I think for obvious reasons, Kelowna was the destination for Leon and I think this is going to be extremely important for his development," MacTavish said. "I don't view his games here as time wasted at all. I think it's time well spent for him and I think everybody can understand what our rationale is to send him back to Kelowna to have this experience."
Draisaitl scored two goals and seven assists in 37 games for the Oilers. Because he did not play at least 40 NHL games, this season will not count toward unrestricted free agency.
Edmonton (9-22-9) are last in the NHL standings and are expected to miss the playoffs for the ninth-consecutive year.
"For me, I was happier with Leon's performance than Leon was," MacTavish said. "When I was behind the bench, I could tell he was frustrated, and at times, he was emotionally disengaged from the game because he's a guy that's used to being the go-to guy in every game that he's played. He's used to scoring and I could tell at that point that he was taking this more harshly than he should have been. I had a talk with him at that point a couple of weeks ago and have communicated this with him since throughout the last two weeks. When I did talk to him, he to me, almost seemed relieved and at that point. I knew, given the situation that we're in — it looks like our situation is improving here — but in spite of that, it's important for these players to play within their own peer group."
Prior to being selected third by Edmonton in the 2014 NHL Draft, Draisaitl scored 38 goals and 67 assists in 64 games with the Raiders.
He made the Oilers out of training camp and started the year as their second-line center.
"Obviously I had an amazing time here, I learned so many things, I couldn't even list it on one list," Draisaitl said. "I'm really thankful that I've been given the opportunity to play in the NHL as a young kid. At the same time now, going to an organization that is winning and is hopefully going to have a deep [playoff] run is pretty exciting for myself."
Draisaitl is returning to Kelowna with an emphasis on improving his overall game.
"The foot speed I have to be better at, my defensive game, I think my whole game has to develop," Draisaitl said. "I'm still young, I'm not too worried about it and I just want to be as complete a player as I can. There are lots of things to work on. I have to keep my good habits that I've learned over the time I was here. I'm excited to go to a winning team and have some success."