Leon Draisaitl is remaining focused on individual improvement and Oilers playoff success following his first Art Ross Trophy win
EDMONTON, AB - By all accounts, it was a @%&#!$ phenomenal season for Leon Draisaitl.
The scintillating Oilers forward gave his approval for Oil Country's support with the exact same designation during a rousing walk-off interview the night he registered his 100th point of the campaign - a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on February 29 at Rogers Place that saw him open the scoring, tie the game, and provide the game-winning assist.
"You guys were @%&#!$ phenomenal, so keep it going," Draisaitl slipped, before the applause and cheers of the crowd at Rogers Place took over.
The regular season's conclusion earlier this week left Draisaitl in a league of his own offensively, up 13 points in the scoring race on teammate Connor McDavid with a remarkable 110 points in 71 games that would anoint him the first German-born Art Ross Trophy winner and third Oilers player in the last four seasons to take home the hardware.
What was once a distant childhood dream for the rising star in the developing hockey nation of Germany became a reality and an important benchmark in the progress of a 24-year-old who still recognizes room for improvement.
Much like how he mulled over the personal importance of his first 50-goal season ahead of the last game of the 2018-19 campaign in Calgary, he wouldn't discount the overarching sense of pride in his Art Ross accomplishment.
"You dream of these things, no question, but until you do it seems so far away," Draisaitl said in via video conference call on Friday. "So I'm proud in a way of course, but I know I still have lots of things to work on.
"It's obviously a cliché, everyone says that, but it's true at the end of the day that there are many things in my game that I can improve. I'm looking to do that every year."
Becoming the League's top scorer didn't magically happen overnight. Instead, it's a product of the many years of hard work and hardships for Draisaitl that began with his assignment to the WHL's Kelowna Rockets following a 37-game exposure to the skill and strength required to compete in the NHL during his rookie season.
Learning to score, and score in bunches, would be one of them.
"It taught me so much about how to play the game the right way and how the game is being played in the NHL," he said. "I think I've always kind of been more of a pass-first kind of guy, but I knew early on in my career in the NHL that I had to be a threat to shoot once in a while too. Otherwise, I'm too predictable.
"It's just something that I've worked on constantly during the summer and in-season whenever it was really. It's just something that I've had to put into my game."
An important trait driving Draisaitl's claim to the Art Ross was an overarching understanding of being one individual contributing to something greater than individual accolades; in this case, his dedication to advancing the Oilers organization and hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"I think it's a cool story for myself personally, no question, but we're a team and it is a team sport as I've said so many times," he said. "If we do end up coming back, it's playoff hockey and nothing else matters. I'm proud, but that's really all it is."
Winning and succeeding in the NHL always requires sacrifice, but his separation from McDavid on a line with Bakersfield Condors call-up Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the turn of the new decade felt more like a blessing. However, the Dynamic Duo still found a way to combine for 87 points with the man advantage and sit #1 and #2 in League scoring.
"He gives me nice passes, so that definitely helps me out," joked McDavid on Thursday. "But more team-wise, what he's done for our group has been great. A lot was made of us playing together or not playing together, so it just gave us that kind of different look. He's had a great season and he's helped our team out, and me personally, a tonne."
Sharing personal and team progress his Oilers teammates, some of which he's shared a dressing room with for all six of his NHL seasons, further inflates Draisaitl's excitement about the future.
"It's been great to obviously stick around the same group of guys for so many years now and see them grow and the organization grow," he said. "It's definitely a lot of fun to be a part of, and I think we still have a lot of upside as a team. It's obviously fun to go through that and learn with the same guys that you essentially kind of started with."
The trail leading to a @%&#!$ phenomenal season by Draisaitl's own standards continues in a best-of-five Qualifying Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks - an experienced, successful team that once stood at similar crossroads with names like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane before winning three Stanley Cups between 2010 and 2016.
"It's a team with a lot of experience still," he said. "They've won, they have that experience of winning games and playoff series, so I think it'll be a good matchup. It'll be a good series, and we're working obviously to win that.