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Draisaitl making a name for himself

Leon Draisaitl has elevated his game to the point where the League is taking notice

by Chris Wescott @TheChrisWescott / Head Writer

EDMONTON, AB - When Shane Doan, a veteran of more than 1,500 NHL games - unsolicited - mentions you as a young player who helps make his team's offence tick, it means something. The Arizona Coyotes captain isn't the first, and won't be the last, opposing player to head into - or come out of - a game against the Oilers touting the abilities of one Leon Draisaitl.

Video: RAW | Leon Draisaitl

As the 21-year-old forward navigates through his third season with the Oilers, he has begun leaving his mark on the League.

"Coaches do pre-scouts, players watch highlights, they play against each other, word travels pretty quick, and Leon is coming into his own," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "You only have to play against him two or three times to get an idea of what he's capable of so I think that is happening."

On a nightly basis, the 2014 third-overall pick makes a play here or there that jumps out, whether it's a pass through traffic to a linemate, or a battle along the wall that results in a scoring opportunity - or another goal.

Draisaitl has 17 lamp-lighters this season, just two shy of his career mark of 19 set in 72 games last year. He is also second on the team in scoring and tied for 18th in the NHL with 39 points in 46 games.

He's come a long way from his rookie toe-dip in the NHL waters back in 2014-15, when he scored just two goals in 37 games. Teammate Mark Letestu came to the Oilers in the summer of 2015, but he was familiar with the high-profile prospect. Coming in, the scouting report was he needed to get his speed up. That's no longer an issue.

"I think the one thing most people had said, or that I had heard before I had seen him play, was that he wasn't fast enough," said Letestu. "His rookie year he was behind or he wasn't able to get to areas to make plays or maybe his feet let him down in certain situations. I think he went into the summer particularly motivated. He worked hard, and now for anybody to say he's not fast enough is clearly not watching. He has the ability to out-skate guys."

Draisaitl's size is also a key factor in his success. The scouting report on him coming out of junior is now coming to fruition at a much higher level. The forward can use his body to shield pucks and move them to different areas of the ice in order to make plays. That's something on display every night.

"To me, his true strength is his ability to hang on to pucks," said Letestu. "He's a really big body, and you really realize it when he hangs on to pucks with d-men draped all over him and he still makes plays. I think that's his greatest gift."

Much like Letestu, McLellan sees the evolution in Draisaitl's game at the NHL level.

"He's come a long way since (his rookie season) with his whole game," said McLellan. "I would start with his ability to skate and keep up with the play and maintain a certain level of pace. For me, he's gone from a boy to a man. He's now able to carry his weight and successfully hold people off, make plays off of that. Confidence level has gone up, so the whole transformation of the player over the last 15-16 months has been very rewarding for him and for us."

Video: ARI@EDM: Draisaitl uses quick hands to pad the lead

"You learn so much over the years like the little plays and big plays," said Draisaitl. "It's just a thing where you learn every single day and have to be willing to put that into your game. I've been fortunate enough to have good players around me, and good coaches that help me. So far, it's been a lot of fun."

As the Oilers take notice of his strides, so does the League. Draisaitl's name is now casually tossed in by opposing players when discussing who to watch in Edmonton's lineup. The awareness may result in them playing him a bit differently now, though Draisaitl said it changes with every team. Either his opponents will play him more physical or they will back off and give him space - afraid to get burned.

"As a player, once you get in the League, you want to be in that category and be a player teams watch out for," Draisaitl said. "You kind of have to take it as a little honour, I guess, but you also have to be able to deal with it."

Draisaitl making impressions on his opponents is a good sign for the Oilers, but it's the impressions in the room that matter the most. His teammates have witnessed a high-profile prospect both raise his game to top-level heights, while also becoming more of a leader in the dressing room.

"Maybe last year Leon wasn't the guy who was at the forefront as he is now but he's really taken a leadership role," said Letestu. "He's really grasped that he's an important cog in the wheel and he's embraced it. He's started to score big goals for us at big times and has become a leader for us in the room."

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