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Draisaitl performs well in first game of season

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - Make no mistake — Leon Draisaitl wants to stay.

Both he and Darnell Nurse have been recalled from the Bakersfield Condors due to Oilers injuries. Both are high first-round picks and neither wants to go back to the American Hockey League anytime soon.

“It would be weird if we would, right?” said Draisaitl. “I think both of us want to stay here. We want to be here and we want to eventually play here and win championships here. I think this is a good time for us to show what we can do and improve.”

Draisaitl was recalled on Thursday morning and arrived in Edmonton around 2:30 p.m., just four and a half hours before faceoff between the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. The process of being recalled then being expected to contribute that same night is no different than what any other prospect goes through when called up, and the travel is not something Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan would say is a valid excuse.

“No worse than getting on the bus and going from Kelowna to Portland and playing and then driving to Seattle and then coming back and playing a three-in-three,” said McLellan. “Being on a plane isn’t bad, and staying in a nice hotel and playing in the NHL. I don’t think it’s that hard. It’s good for him.”

Although he had every right to have some tired legs after a day of travel, Draisaitl didn’t seem to be slowed down in any capacity. The 20-year-old forward was thrust into action on the Oilers top line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and contributed to the team’s impressive 4-3 comeback win over the Canadiens.

Draisaitl scored two goals, led the team in shots with five and played 19:59. For Draisaitl, Thursday night was an opportunity to show the Oilers what he can do and he didn’t disappoint.

When Draisaitl was sent down to Bakersfield he suffered from a little assignment hangover, something that affects a lot of young players who go to the AHL out of training camp. However, the third-overall pick in 2014 came around and started performing better as of late.

“Obviously, it takes a little time,” said Draisaitl, who has a goal and an assist in six AHL games this season. “There’s always frustration when you get sent down. I did struggle a little bit down there for the first little bit but I think the last couple games I played really well. Right now I’m here, I’m happy to be here and I’m trying to improve every day.”

Much like his start to his AHL season, the report on Draisaitl Thursday night was that it took some time for him to get his legs under him. A chat with one of his linemates helped light a fire under the youngster and give him some confidence.

“I thought he started a little slow, a little hesitant and then let himself go,” said McLellan. “I know Hallsy pulled him aside and told him, ‘let’s go. Relax and play. You’re a good player.’ I thought he was more involved then.”

Hall’s advice settled Draisaitl down and he was able to score a power-play goal at 19:08 of the second to cut the deficit to 3-1.

“I think the first couple shifts I wasn’t really playing my game,” said Draisaitl. “I was thinking a little too much. Hallsy came over and told me to just play. It’s true that you play your best when you just go and play, have fun, go out there and try and do your best.”

Draisaitl then scored the game-winning goal at 18:58 of the third, courtesy of a nice feed by Nugent-Hopkins.

“He looked really good,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “He’s a guy that is at his best when he’s not holding anything back and really going after it. Tonight, we saw that. It was a long day for him, I know, but he found the energy he needed. When he needed to score, he found a couple big goals. It was a huge help for us and we’re glad to have him.”

Draisaitl was able to shake off the slow start to his AHL season, a long day of travel and a slow start to the game, to have potentially his best professional performance to date and his first multi-goal game in the NHL. It’s his first step to proving he’s ready to stick.

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