Forgot About Drai: Draisaitl Impressive In Season Debut

“Y’all know me, still the same o.g., but I’ve been low key.”Dr. Dre

It was an impressive night at Rexall Place when the Edmonton Oilers upset the Montreal Canadiens with four unanswered goals to complete a comeback and win 4-3 in the dying minutes of the third period. The guy leading the charge? Leon Draisaitl.

It was Dr. Drai the Oilers almost forgotten 2014 3rd overall pick forgotten no more that scored two goals including the winner with 1:02 remaining in regulation. Sure it’s been one game and Draisaitl has struggled out of the gate with the AHL Bakersfield Condors but this might just be the break the 20-year-old German power forward may have needed.

Now no one is “mad at Drai because he can finally afford to provide his family with groceries” or hating on his “wall full of plaques hanging up in the office in back of his house like trophies.“. Everyone is buzzing about Draisaitl taking another step towards making a legit run at becoming an NHL regular with the Oilers this season.

Don’t Forget About Drai, Forget 2014-15

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Leon Draisaitl (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Forget about Draisaitl’s 2014-15 NHL season, just lock it in a treasure chest and sink it to the bottom of the river. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place and the only reason it did was because the Oilers and former GM Craig MacTavish didn’t have any other choice but to throw him into a spot he wasn’t ready for.

Try the young forward on the wing to transition him to the NHL? Nope. Play him in the World Juniors for Germany? Nope. Make him play center against the likes of Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim) and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver)? Sure.

Throw in the fact former head coach Dallas Eakins may have clued in and the plan was then for him to be playing some nights on the third or fourth lines under ten minutes a night confused the situation. Draisaitl rewarded the Oilers mismanagement with a disappointing 9 points in 37 games before they truly realized he truly wasn’t ready.

Square Peg, Round Hole

(Marissa Baecker/
Leon Draisaitl (Marissa Baecker)

Back in junior with a fresh trade to the WHL Kelowna Rockets a rejuvenated Draisaitl got his confidence back in a big way leading the Rockets to a Memorial Cup final and won MVP honors in a losing effort. Draisaitl capped the year with 53 points in 32 games and another 35 points in 24 playoff games.

In hindsight Draisaitl probably shouldn’t have done more than a nine-game audition before going back to junior, but the mismanagement burned half a year of development and a full year of his entry level contract (ELC).

The ELC is a big thing here because the Oilers are on their way to having some future cap issues with all the young talent, Draisaitl included. Not getting that extra year of the ELC means he’ll be an RFA the same year the Oilers will potentially have to re-sign Nail Yakupov, Anton Lander and Griffin Reinhart. If the Oilers had the first year still they’d be able to plan better for 2018-19 when Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse become RFA’s and likely getting monster deals (McDavid for sure).

Simply put it means speeding up the process here when the Oilers need something very important to make decisions about this roster; time.

Is It Drai Day Finally In Edmonton?

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Anton Slepyshev (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Draisaitl had an impressive training camp but ultimately it’s the 200 foot game that was the reason he was sent to the minors to start the year.

Offensively he’s one of the Oilers more gifted players in the organization top to bottom, no one can take that away from him.

There are two key factors here when it comes to Draisaitl and those are things the fans really need to keep focus on here.

Both factors tie into the long-term forecast for the former Memorial Cup MVP here.


He’s Going To Have To Play The Wings

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
Connor McDavid (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Definitely not a deal breaker because this is ultimately where Draisaitl best fits the Oilers long-term future. He’s a natural center as Chiarelli puts it, but naturally there is no center ice position for him on this team right now.

Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the No. 1/2 centers on this club for the long-term future, so do you bump Anton Lander or Mark Letestu off the No. 3/4 spots? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to drop him to a defensive, checking or energy role. That’s not his game, don’t force something. Square peg, round hole again.

He’s going to have to play the wing in Edmonton. Right now the top six is set once Jordan Eberle returns from injury.  So the only real option this year is to plug and play in other injury spots or trade Teddy Purcell, something that might prove difficult to do cap wise.


#67 Benoit Pouliot

#97 Connor McDavid #10 Nail Yakupov

#4 Taylor Hall

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

#14 Jordan Eberle (IR)

#28 Lauri Korpikoski (IR)

#51 Anton Lander

#16 Teddy Purcell

#12 Rob Klinkhammer (IR)

#55 Mark Letestu

#23 Matt Hendricks (IR)

#20 Luke Gazdic #42 Anton Slepyshev

What Do You Do When Eberle Comes Back?

Jordan Eberle
Jordan Eberle (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Injuries are the sole reason Draisaitl got this opportunity to begin with. Even then he wasn’t the first one the Oilers brought up. Anton Slepyshev got “Draisaitl’s spot” in training camp and Iiro Pakarinen was one of the first to come up.

The mounting injuries to four of the Oilers regulars was why he came up, not just to fill “Eberle’s spot“, even though that was where he ended up playing in his debut next to RNH and Hall. So what do you do when Eberle comes back? There’s just not a full-time spot for Draisaitl this season without a long-term injury or a trade.

If the Oilers are going to make space for Draisaitl who do you even move? The only one that makes sense is trading Purcell, that’ll be hard with how he’s played to start the year. Purcell needs to play himself into a valuable chip spot, he’s negative value right now.

If you’re getting creative you could demote Klinkhammer to a No.13 spot and waive Gazdic all together to give Draisaitl the third-line LW spot next to Anton Lander. That’d mean Slepyshev is going to the AHL too. Here’s what that’d look like when the injured players are back ideally.


#67 Benoit Pouliot

#97 Connor McDavid #10 Nail Yakupov

#4 Taylor Hall

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

#14 Jordan Eberle

#29 Leon Draisaitl

#51 Anton Lander

#16 Teddy Purcell

#28 Lauri Korpikoski

#55 Mark Letestu

#23 Matt Hendricks

#12 Rob Klinkhammer

So what’s the best remedy for the fans? Relax.

This was one game that Draisaitl was very motivated to show his worth to the organization. He’s going to need to string together a few good games to show he truly is a completely different player than the one that struggled in 2014-15 at the NHL level and the one that’s struggled with 2 points in 6 games in the AHL this season sporting a -5 rating.

If Eberle is going to be out another two weeks that’ll give the Oilers another seven games potentially to see if Draisaitl can stick.