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Draisaitl adds to Oilers talented youthful core

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
“I think the sky is the limit."

That’s what Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish had to say about his newest acquisition shortly after the organization made Leon Draisaitl the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.

All signs pointed to Draisaitl for the Oilers. As recently as yesterday, the team need of a centre and added size was a topic of discussion for MacTavish and the Oilers. Draisaitl, at 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, brings size, skill and drive to the club.

“It’s pretty hard not to like anything about his game,” MacTavish said. “He’s a guy that very freely picks, out of the first, second and third options, the best option on the rush. He’s very reliable with the puck, he seldom turns the puck over. As much as he’s not that much taller than some of the other centremen that we were comparing him against, he’s a guy that is quite a bit more powerful at this stage of his career. He protects the puck and is a real offensive zone player. We’ve got a lot of skill, we’re in need of somebody down low that’s capable of sustaining that play.”

Adding a player like Draisaitl was seen as a must for MacTavish. The Oilers finished the 2013-14 season with a record of 15-30-5 against the Western Conference and recorded just eight wins against the Pacific Division (8-17-4). MacTavish knew if the organization were to fix that they would have to add size up the middle in order to compete with those teams with bigger centres and bigger players.

“We all know how difficult big centres are to obtain,” the general manager said. “You’re going to have to draft big centres to get them because they’re very hard to come by. Leon really fits that build for us. We play in a very difficult conference, a very difficult division and we feel Leon’s skill set fits in incredibly well for us in Edmonton. There will be a lineup of wingers that will be ready to play with Leon when he gets to Edmonton.”

Photo by Getty Images.

Even though Draisaitl knew the team had interest in him, the German-born forward didn’t know his name would be called until it happened. It was a moment he will never forget.

“I think this year was really unpredictable,” Draisaitl said. “No one really knew what was going on from the players’ perspective. I had really good meetings with them and knew they were interested but you didn’t know what was going on with the trades and all that stuff but right now, wearing that jersey is phenomenal.”

Draisaitl is eager to join his new teammates, already chomping at the bit to get to training camp. He joins a growing list of young, talented players. Whether or not he can make the roster and make the leap into the NHL right away remains to be seen.

“I think it comes down to training camp and how I’m doing there,” he said. “It comes down to me. I think I’m a good fit for the young team and I’m just really, really excited.”

MacTavish says the Oilers won’t rush Draisaitl into a situation he isn’t ready for. If that means the second-line centre role takes a back seat to his development, so be it. But as the third overall pick in the draft, the 18-year-old will get every opportunity to earn it and he wants to earn it.

“I think I’m going to have to do my job and earn my spot if I want to play in that league and on that team,” he said. “I think they’re moving forward. They’ve made some good trades like for David Perron and I think the guys are getting older and more mature and this is just awesome right now.”

“We want to make sure that if we do put young kids in our lineup that they do have the chance to have success and that will be a big factor, along with how he adapts to the NHL game at training camp,” MacTavish said. “One of the things I liked was the commitment he showed, in the conversations that we’ve had, to coming to Edmonton very quickly. We’ve got our development orientation camp next week and then he’s going to stay in Edmonton and train and get ready for training camp. He’s obviously a guy that’s got a ton of ability and a ton of drive.”

Draisaitl has the confidence in his abilities that seems to forecast immediate impact.

“I think I’m a strong forward,” he said. “I am big, strong, strong on the puck, I’m good at protecting the puck and I like to score goals. At the same time, I think I’m a good two-way forward and I do my defensive job as well.”

Draisaitl has been compared to Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton, which bodes well for the Oilers if he reaches that potential. The one thing that is for certain is that the Oilers have added another player to their already young and talented core, which includes the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz.

“They have a really talented young group there and they really want to be good,” Draisaitl said. “Their players are young but they are almost already stars in the league. To join them is great.”

Thinking of that core group and all of the different combinations that the club can toy with moving forward has the general manager salivating.

MacTavish said, “There are a lot of good combinations when you add a player of this calibre to our organization so we’re real happy to have Leon.”

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