ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - For the sixth time in five seasons, Leon Draisaitl is once again representing his native Germany at an international tournament, this time the 2016 IIHF World Championship in Russia.
"Obviously you wish you were playing hockey with your NHL team right now, but this is a great opportunity to play some really good hockey and it's a lot of fun playing for your country," he said.
After an impressive 5-1 win against Slovakia today, Germany has likely avoided relegation, but as hosts of next year's event, that wouldn't have happened anyway.
"There's probably a little less pressure this year because we can't get relegated. You always want to go into a tournament and play as well as you can and win as many games as you can," Draisaitl said. "For us, it's always about taking it game by game. We are not a country that can say that the semifinals is our goal. That is not realistic with Team Germany, but we want to play really good hockey and show the other countries that we belong here too."
As they prepare for Canada on Thursday (11am on TSN), Draisaitl and his German teammates know they will be in for a battle.
"It's always going to be a hard working game for us no matter who we play," he explained. "This year, we have some offense in our group and that's great to have - we need that - but it's more about playing hard and playing the right way and trying to out battle the other teams. We have to play that way if we want to find any level of success."
Even though he's only 20-years-old and even though this was his first full-professional season, he is speaking from experience.
"I think the 37 games I played [in the NHL] the year before really helped me learn how to be an athlete, how to prepare for games, how to play the right way in the NHL and how to make an impact. I took that information and tried to take it to another level this past summer and it worked out really well for me," said Draisaitl, who had 51 points in 72 games with the Oilers this year, second behind Taylor Hall.
"I think I came back this year with the right attitude," he continued. "I wanted to be up there and I wanted to make an impact. I didn't want to be on the third or fourth line. I really wanted to contribute and they gave me a great chance to do that and I think I took that chance and established myself as an important player to our team."
That experience has also made him an important player for Team Germany as well as Team Europe as Draisaitl - 6-foot-1, 214 pounds - has already been named to the roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey this September.
"He's going to be the leader of this team for years to come and with that, he's still learning what it takes to be a good all-around NHL player," said Geoff Ward, an assistant coach for Team Germany. "It's nice to see the development because he really works hard at it. You can see he wants to be better than good in all areas of the game and really become a complete player."
Ward continued: "When you get a player with the offensive talent that Leon has, you have to make sure the other aspects of his game are where they need to be before he can truly have an impact offensively. This tournament really gives him an opportunity to do that. He's getting first line minutes and with that comes the responsibility of playing against other teams' top lines and being able to shut them down. He will go back to Edmonton a better player because of his experience here."