If the Oilers had any sort of depth at center, there wouldn’t even be a question as to whether or not 18-year old Leon Draisaitl should be sent back to Junior. But, after the team’s 1-4-1 start to the season (and looking absolutely dreadful before Monday’s win over the Lightning), many wonder if keeping Draisaitl is a way to calm the masses. The Oilers fanbase is getting impatient with the team’s lack of progress, but after quietly sending defenseman Darnell Nurse back to his junior club last week, should management do the same with Draisaitl?
The Oilers are known for rushing kids into the lineup to provide spark to what has been a long stretch of futility since their Cup run in 2006. They stunted Sam Gagner’s development by keeping him in the NHL at 18. He never fully realized the potential everyone thought he had, and he’s since left the team. Nail Yakupov, like Gagner before him, would have been better served spending another year developing, but his first overall draft status and his admission that it was either the NHL or Russia made the situation a little more complicated. Yakupov still doesn’t look comfortable in the NHL and the moment is on a path to possibly being a draft bust.
Through six games, Draisatil has one assist and is a minus -6. Not exactly sparkling numbers but he hasn’t looked out of place. He seems much more NHL ready than Yakupov did at the start of his pro career, although his foot speed is a bit of an issue. But the Oilers need to ask themselves if keeping Draisaitl really makes them a better team at this moment. Sending him back to Junior to further his development would be better in the long-run for both him and the franchise. Let’s face it, the Oilers are far from being a championship contender. They’re far from being a playoff contender at this point. As much as the fans would loathe another lost season, sometimes you have to suck it up and look to the future. The Oilers have made mistakes with young players before, and hopefully they’ve learned from that.
The reality for this team is that they are so weak down the middle, their options are extremely limited. But is hampering a potential young stars’ development really the solution because you haven’t built your team properly? The Oilers had no trouble sending Nurse down with players like Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin ahead of him on the depth chart. And perhaps this year he will make Team Canada’s World Junior team which will give him more big game experience.
The Oilers still have a few more games to make a decision. One would hope that this time they make the choice that is in the best interest of the player.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.