KELOWNA, BC - There was Leon Draisaitl in the flesh, speaking to media before an Oilers backdrop on the event level at Prospera Place in Kelowna, BC.
Brushed on the white arena wall above him was Leon Draisaitl drawn in paint, immortalized on the Kelowna Rockets Wall of Recognition for Outstanding Achievement, hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup as a member of the Kelowna Rockets.
It's a homecoming, of sorts, for the Deutschland Dangler, who captured a 2014-15 Western Hockey League championship with the club then advanced to the Memorial Cup where he scored four goals and three assists in five games to earn the Stafford Smythe Trophy as the tournament's most valuable player.
Although his Rockets didn't take the tournament - falling to the Oshawa Generals in the final - the MVP nod at the best-on-best circuit meant he met the criteria to be added to the wall, which features supreme NHL talents Jamie Benn, Shea Weber, Tyler Myers and Josh Morrissey, among others.
"They said it's a pretty good painting," Draisaitl, when he was asked about what his teammates thought of the piece, answered.
"They said it's pretty accurate."
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The 50-goal scorer played 37 games with the Oilers in '14-15 before returning to major junior where he was traded from the Prince Albert Raiders to Kelowna. Almost immediately, Draisaitl became a key figure on the team and was a difference-maker on the ice during the club's memorable postseason run.
"They really took me in and they treated me really well here," Draisaitl said. "I just love being here and it's great to be back."
The German confessed that he had to take the demotion, at the time, in stride. But after getting over the fact that he was not yet NHL-ready, Draisaitl relished the opportunity and made it as significant as he possibly could.
"I played half the year in the NHL and clearly wasn't ready to make an impact every night," Draisaitl, who tallied 78 goals and 216 points over his 160-game WHL career, said.
"For me at that point, it was best to get some confidence. Get to play on the power play, penalty kill. It really helped me and helped my development."
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The 23-year-old admitted it took some time to adjust when he went from the National Hockey League back to the WHL. But it was a necessary step in his evolution as a player.
"You go from not playing the minutes you're used to playing in the NHL to playing a lot and being a go-to guy," Draisaitl said. "I was one of the older guys and wanted to be a good leader.
"I really settled in nicely here and understood that this was the best for me."
The murals are painted by Joey Tramer, who routinely updates them as Rockets alumni capture new hardware. For example, Madison Bowey's mural features a Stanley Cup under it after he won it with the Washington Capitals in 2018.
Draisaitl, surely, is hoping he will have a few chalices added underneath his portrait as his career continues. Until then, he's happy with it.
"Looks good, eh," Draisaitl joked as Head Coach Dave Tippett walked by.