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Draisaitl flashes skill and hockey sense in key moments

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

PENTICTON, B.C. - Leon Draisaitl is no stranger to the art of the penalty shot.

Countless times in his young playing career, the Deutschland Dangler has went one on one with the opposing goaltender in shootouts, breakaways or penalty shots.

“I guess I was always one of the guys who (the coaches) trust,” said Draisaitl. “Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t go so well. I would take a penalty shot every game if I could.”

Photo by Marissa Baecker.

The big and talented centre from Cologne, Germany had another chance to test his skills in the player-on-goalie dance Saturday night when he was awarded a penalty shot in the third period of the Oilers and Flames prospects game.

Draisaitl deftly went five-hole, giving the Oil their first lead of the night. It also proved to be the game-winning tally in a 6-3 come-from-behind victory over their rivals from down the QE2.

“Leon, I think, is a gamer,” said Oilers Rookies Head Coach Gerry Fleming. “I think when the game is on the line, he wants to be on the ice, he wants the puck, he wants to be that guy that can turn the game around. He played well tonight.”

Draisaitl’s night started slow, but the more ice time he got the more he became visible. But the spotlight was never more directly on him than it was during that penalty shot.

“My dad always told me to be a big-time player when the game is on the line,” said Draisaitl. “I think that’s what everybody wants to be and that’s the same with me. When the game is on the line I want to be at my best. I want to produce and help the team win. I think today was a good thing for me to be able to do that.”

These Young Stars Classic games don’t count in the standings. There is no trophy given. The players are competing for pride and, more importantly, to make an impression. Draisaitl certainly made one by flashing the vision, the hockey IQ and the skills that made him the third-overall pick in 2014.

Another glowing example of this was when the Oilers trailed 3-2 at the start of the third. On the power play, Greg Chase poked the puck to Draisaitl in the corner. He then flipped a beautiful backhanded pass to Braden Christoffer in the slot, right on the tape. Christoffer had all the time in the world to turn and fire a shot past Mason McDonald. It was a big goal to tie the game.

“Drai made a great play. Real heads-up,” said Christoffer. “I was wide open in front and I’m glad I buried that one.”

Draisaitl’s hockey IQ kicked in on that play.

“The puck came to my side and I had seen the defencemen cheat behind the net and I’d seen it wide open in front of the net,” said Draisaitl. “I just blindly kind of threw it in front of the net.”

Draisaitl had scoped out the tendencies of the Flames before deciding what to do in that situation. Now, he’ll tell you it was a blind pass but Fleming disagrees.

“It might look like a blind pass, but he knows what he’s doing,” said Fleming. “It’s not going to be a turnover or a high-risk play. It’s a high-percentage play. He studies what’s going on. Like any good player does, they see the tendencies of other teams’ special teams and he knew that play was going to be open. He just fired it on the tape and it was a big goal.”

It’s not the first time Fleming has seen Draisaitl perform in those situations.

“I think he checks his shoulders before he gets the puck,” said Fleming. “He knows where guys are and he senses where the pressure is coming from and knows the open play, especially on the power play. It was a nice pass. It sure was.”

A pretty pass and a timely goal. These are things Oilers fans hope Draisaitl will provide when the real games are on the line.

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