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An eventful year makes Draisaitl a more confident player

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Getty Images.

It has been a full year since a young Leon Draisaitl joined the group of 2014 NHL Draft prospects in Toronto for the Scouting Combine, and what a year it has been.

Selected third overall in the 2014 Draft, Draisaitl began his career with the Oilers on October 9, against Calgary. He scored his first NHL goal against Carolina on October 24. After 37 games with the Oilers, in which he recorded nine points (2-7-9), the rookie centre was assigned to the Kelowna Rockets to continue a junior career that began with Prince Albert just two years prior. That is when Draisaitl really took off.

Draisaitl torched the Western Hockey League with 53 points (19-34-53) in 32 games with the Rockets during the regular season. He went on to lead Kelowna in playoff scoring with 28 points (10-18-28) in 19 games. The Rockets captured the 2015 WHL Championship by sweeping the Brandon Wheat Kings.

“That was great. It’s a great feeling,” said Draisaitl. “You work for that all season long, all summer long, to raise a cup. Doing that in the WHL was very special and I think that’s something every hockey player dreams of: winning a championship one day.”

After punching their ticket to the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Rockets would enter the tournament as one of the two favourites. It was no surprise to see the high-powered Rockets face the physical Oshawa Generals in the final. Despite jumping out to a 1-0 lead, the Rockets fell 2-1 in overtime. It was an unfitting end to a very successful season for Draisaitl and Kelowna. Even still, Draisaitl was awarded the Stafford Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the tournament and he also finished as the leading scorer with four goals and three assists in five games.

“Going against teams from all over Canada is a lot of fun,” said Draisaitl. “The crowd is always good and there is a hype about that tournament. All-in-all, it was just an unbelievable experience. It’s too bad we couldn’t finish on top, but I think we can be really proud of ourselves and what we accomplished.”

Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images

The 2014-15 season brought with it a lot of memories, which Draisaitl will carry with him throughout what he hopes will be a long career.

“It was very special. It was pretty eventful,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve been through a lot this past year. All-in-all, I think it was one of the best hockey years I’ve had so far in my career. Starting off in the NHL, getting drafted, playing in the NHL for half the season and then coming here and winning a championship is very special. I’m very fortunate to have been on a winning team and me being drafted that high and being given a chance to play in the NHL as well. I think it was a great year.”

It’s almost sensory overload with everything that has happened in a year. Draisaitl can’t single out one moment above the rest.

“It’s kind of hard to pick; I’ve been through a lot this year,” Draisaitl mused. “Obviously, playing my first NHL game and scoring my first NHL goal are two of the biggest moments I will ever remember in hockey. But, at the same time, winning a championship here (in Kelowna) and going to a really big stage of junior hockey (at the Memorial Cup) is some special as well. I can’t really pick one thing, but everything was very special this year.”

Going back to junior and being able to experience all of the success he did with Kelowna has made Draisaitl a better player than he was a year ago at this time, when he was still awaiting his fate at the Draft.

“I’ve gotten more confident, coming back to junior,” he said. “I think I’m more of a complete player than I was a year ago. I kill penalties and I do the dirty work as well. I know how to handle that now. All-in-all, I’m just a more complete player.”

The Oilers put money in the bank and collected interest with Draisaitl. They’re getting back more of a player than they had earlier in the year as Draisaitl’s development continued its upward trajectory, only making him better.

Photo by Getty Images.

While Draisaitl is a new-look player, he’ll be joining a new-look organization this off-season. The Oilers changed a lot in their front office with Bob Nicholson taking over as CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group, Peter Chiarelli as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager, and Todd McLellan as Head Coach.

“I think it’s great,” said Draisaitl. “I think they’re all very experienced guys and they know how to run an organization or a team. I think it’s going to be great for the organization and they definitely did the right moves.”

“It’s very exciting,” he added. “I think the Oilers are heading in the right direction now and hopefully being a part of that next year is really special and that’s something to look forward to.”

Although Draisaitl has yet to meet the new bosses, he says he is excited to do so later this summer. He hopes the winning experience he gained with Kelowna can help translate to the NHL.

“Winning is always much, much more fun than losing,” said Draisaitl. “I’m going to try and keep my winning attitude and bring it wherever I’ll be and hopefully that’s in Edmonton next year. I’m going to try and take that with me and take it as a great experience to always have a winning attitude. I think that’s very valuable.”

Next up for Draisaitl is a road trip to Edmonton for the weekend, after which he will fly to Cologne, Germany to be with his family for the first time since being drafted. After some family time it is back to Edmonton for a full summer of training as he looks to make the team out of training camp and stick for good.

“For me, it’s really important to have a really strong summer and get stronger,” Draisaitl said. “Obviously, my goal is to be on that team again. I’m looking forward to a good summer and hopefully I’ll be much better next year.”

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