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Draisaitl to join Edmonton following long off-season

Leon Draisaitl has had a long off-season, as he closes in on making his return to Edmonton for 2016-17

by Chris Wescott | Head Writer @TheChrisWescott / Edmontonoilers.com

Leon Draisaitl shouldn't be rusty when he reports for training camp. If anything, he might be fatigued.

The Oilers centre has not stopped playing hockey, it seems, since the 2015-16 season ended. Although he did have some break, Draisaitl joined his home country Germany for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Riga, Latvia.

Draisaitl scored two goals and added three assists for five points in three games as Germany swept Group E and clinched a spot in the 2018 Olympics.

Like several of his Team Europe teammates at the World Cup of Hockey, Draisaitl came straight from the qualifying tournament to begin training with his new club.

"For Leon, it's been a very challenging time with a lot of growth," said Team Europe Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "He led Germany to the Olympic games until the first of September… He had three weeks of camps before they even got to ours. So that group came in, naturally, a little fatigued from that challenge but immediately engaged in this one."

After adjusting to the smaller ice surface, Draisaitl showed he can contribute with a hat trick in Europe's final pre-tournament tuneup against Sweden. He then scored a goal in their round-robin opening win against USA and the overtime winner against the Czech Republic.

Video: WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT | Leon Draisaitl

Draisaitl has helped Europe become the surprise of the tournament, as they advanced to face Canada in the final.

"I think he's played very well," said Europe teammate and fellow German Christian Ehrhoff. "He's a big part of our team. He's scored some big goals for us, and we need him to play really well against Canada as well."

Players like Anze Kopitar have been very complimentary of Draisaitl's contributions.

"It's very nice to hear stuff like that from great players like him, but I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me," said Draisaitl. "I still have lots of things I can do better. I'm just trying to get better every day and improve as a player. It's nice to hear guys like him say that."

When Team Europe's management group was building their roster for the World Cup, they were made aware of Draisaitl's breakout campaign in Edmonton.

Following a call-up from Bakersfield in the American Hockey League, Draisaitl ripped off great production. He scored seven goals and added 10 assists in the first 10 games after being recalled. He finished 2015-16 with 51 points (19-32-51) in 72 games, blowing away his rookie totals.

"I remember seeing him when he was brought up (last season) and he just starts putting up great points and scoring goals right away, coming from the farm team, and right away having impact in Edmonton. I was right away impressed with him," said Team Europe GM and former Oilers forward Miroslav Satan.

After Kopitar and Frans Nielsen, Satan says the club was looking to add an impact third centre.

"He did great throughout the year in Edmonton and we knew that we would want him on the team and we expected he'd be one of our young bloods on the team. He also did well in the Olympic qualifying tournament for Germany just before this tournament. He continues to evolve into a great player."

Perhaps one of Europe's greatest characteristics is the experience on their roster. They have five players who have won a Stanley Cup in their careers. But the youth is also big for them. 

"He's been a big part of our success, together with other young guys like (Tobias) Rieder and (Tomas) Tatar," said Satan. "You see what they are doing for us. We have a nice mix of older and younger players. From what I've seen from successful teams in the past, it was always the right combination of experience and young guys that usually combines into team success."

It's experienced players like Kopitar and Nielsen that Draisaitl has made no secret he's trying to learn from at this tournament. His devotion to his craft has been noticed.

"His hunger to improve as a player is fun to be around," said Krueger, who knew Draisaitl as a young boy in Germany when he played with his father.

"Lots of good things happening for Leon," he added.

Draisaitl is not only soaking up what it means to be a professional from players on Team Europe's roster, but he's also making an impact on the ice. These are good signs for the Oilers, who expect Draisaitl to continue to develop into a productive player in the League after selecting him third overall in 2014.

No matter what happens to Europe in the final against Canada, Draisaitl will join Edmonton with his skating legs broken in and another career achievement under his belt.

"Being able to play at this high of level, this high stage of hockey, that will help everyone I think," said Draisaitl. "You're pretty much in game shape already. It shouldn't really take any time to get used to the pace once you get to your club team."

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