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FEATURE: Willkommen zurück

Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl is back in Edmonton for informal skates after a productive summer and long travel day

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

Numerous Edmonton Oilers players, both rookies and veterans, converged on Rogers Place for an informal skate Tuesday morning. As they do at the conclusion every off-season, these skates take on a tone of hope and optimism. The players usually speak of how good it feels to be back on the ice.

For Leon Draisaitl, Tuesday was a little bit different.

"Not very good for me," Draisaitl laughed.

You see, Draisaitl took the long road to Edmonton - a very long road.

The Oilers forward left his hometown of Cologne, Germany around 7 AM local time Monday morning, driving roughly two hours southeast to Frankfurt. There he boarded a plane to Alberta, with his flight to Calgary lasting a little more than nine hours, followed by a three-hour layover.

By the time he reached Edmonton, it was 7 PM. Given the eight-hour time difference, Draisaitl had quite the day.

"He looked like he was a little jetlagged to tell you the truth," said Mark Letestu, who joined Draisaitl on the ice Tuesday morning. "I don't know if he's slept in a couple of days."

You'd have tired legs too after a travel day like that, but it didn't stop Draisaitl from stretching those legs out on home ice.

"I like coming a little bit earlier," said Draisaitl. "It's nice to get settled in and get used to the time change and that kind of stuff. It's good to be back."

The arduous travel day to end Draisaitl's summer aside, it was an off-season to remember for the German forward, who now enters his fourth professional season.

"Leon's had a better summer than most. I'm sure if he could have a summer like that every summer he would," said Letestu.

Draisaitl, coming off a 29-goal, 77-point campaign, was awarded an eight-year contract extension through the 2024-25 season on August 16. The contract has an average annual value of $8.5 million.

His teammates were almost as happy for him as he was to have signed the deal.

"We're all happy, we're excited for him. But more importantly, he's going to be our teammate for the next eight years," said Letestu. "That brings us a lot of happiness as a group. When anyone on the team as individual success like that, we're pretty proud of him."

Despite the excitement of the negotiation process and eventual inking of the deal, Draisaitl says the summer months "dragged on" but they were also productive. He spent more than seven weeks in the Czech Republic, working on his fitness.

"I worked out hard and tried to come back in really good shape again and it was a good summer."

Draisaitl says his off-season focus remains unchanged and that he wants to improve "the whole package."

His off-season dedication to self improvement comes following a career year. Now he heads into the pressures of a new season, with a large contract in tow.

"There's always pressure. Really, it doesn't matter," said Draisaitl. "Last year I had the pressure of it being my contract year. It's the same every year. For me, it's not really a matter of the pressure too much. I want to live up to that contract and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Draisaitl has participated in these pre-training camp, informal skates for a couple of years now. But there are a lot of things that make this one different. Edmonton is coming off their first playoff berth since 2006. They have a young core, Draisaitl included, that continues to grow and develop. Expectations are high.

"Of course it's different, every year is different," Draisaitl said. "I think the guys are all in a good mood, they're all excited to get back and excited to get going. We didn't change all that much so the group basically stayed the same. I think we all know where we're at and it's a chance for everyone or a new chance for a lot of guys to show what they can do. I think everyone is really excited."

The long summer and long road back to Edmonton is over for Draisaitl. The long hockey season is on its way.

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