The Edmonton Oilers went off the board with the 90th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft to select Luca Munzenberger, a German blueliner who captained Kölner Junghaie U20 in 2020-21.
Not much was known about the 18-year-old, who made just one major pre-draft list, ranked No. 214th by McKeen’s Hockey. Needless to say, this had many in Oil Country up in arms.
But all it took was a few minutes on a post-draft media call for Munzenberger to make himself feel like an old friend, impossible to dislike for even those most critical of his draft selection. Wearing a smile that never left his face, Munzenberger spoke excitedly about becoming an Oiler and discussed his connections to Edmonton.
He’s an Oilers Fan
Edmonton is a popular team in Germany, Oilers superstar forward Leon Draisaitl’s homeland. Draisaitl was named German Sportsman of the Year in 2020 after winning the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award.
“If you’re German and you’re a hockey player, you got to love the Oilers because of Leon,” said Munzenberger, who just after being drafted was texted by Draisaitl. “The cool thing is Leon is from Cologne, and I used to play for Cologne in my juniors, so the connection there is pretty nice.”
The Oilers have had five German-born players in their history, including Sven Butenschoen, Bryan Glynn, Jochen Hecht, Tobias Reider, and now Draisaitl.
“Leon is just a huge star in Germany,” Munzengerger said. “Even though hockey’s not that popular as it is in U.S. or Canada, but it’s starting to grow up, especially because of Leon.”
Nurse in Training
The biggest mystery around Munzenberger is the type of player he is. Fans of junior or college hockey in Canada and the United States aren’t familiar with him, and even those who keenly follow the action Europe wouldn’t be able to file much of a scouting report on the German defenceman, considering Kölner Junghaie U20 played just half a dozen times in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season.
So when Munzenberger was asked about his playing style, the 6-foot-2, 194-pounder drew a parallel to a blueliner everyone in Edmonton knows quite well, Oilers star Darnell Nurse.
“I would probably say that I’m a big defenceman, (I) play hard in the defensive zone and focus on the defensive game and if there’s a possibility to join the rush I would do it. I would probably compare myself a little bit to Darnell Nurse. I like how he plays, he’s a great player.”Luca Munzenberger
Nurse, who stands 6-foot-4 and tips the scales around 220 pounds, had a breakout season with the Oilers in 2020-21. His career-high 16 goals were second-most by a defenceman in the NHL, and he ranked second in shooting percentage (10.4%) and fifth in plus-minus (+27) among rearguards. The 26-year-old also played 1,435 minutes, third-most in the NHL, including a league-leading 1,223:09 at even strength.
“I think that Darnell is a great defenceman, in the first place,” Munzenberger said. “He’s a big guy, strong defensively, focuses on his defensive skills, has a great stick on (the) puck, plays huge in the defensive zone.
“On penalty-killing, he’s a great guy to have out there and he also joins the rush if he can and is pretty solid on offense and a great guy on the offensive zone too. At the blue line, he’s making easy shots to the net, getting the pucks through there.
“I think he’s an all-around great player, and I could see myself being in that spot in a couple years with that focus on the defensive end and then if there’s a possibility to join the offense, I think that’s my style of play.”
Coming Back to Edmonton
Munzenberger was part of Team Germany for the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships at Rogers Place in Edmonton last winter. The tournament was played before empty stands because of the global pandemic.
“The arena is very, very nice. I loved to play there, it (was) such a great experience, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to have fans in there … with the fans, it’s going to be a huge experience.”
After finishing third in Pool A to qualify for the playoff round, Germany was defeated 2-1 by Russia in the quarterfinals. Munzenberger played in all five of Germany’s games, recording 0 points, four penalty minutes, and a minus-four rating.
Munzenberger has committed to the University of Vermont, where he will play his freshman season with the men’s hockey team in 2021-21. The coach of the Catamounts is Todd Woodcroft, who just happens to be the brother of Jay Woodcroft, coach of the Bakersfield Condors, Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate.
In another twist, Vermont’s new Associate Director of Athletic Performance is Patrick Love, who served the last two years as the Oilers Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach and, before that, spent several seasons with the Condors.
“He used to coach (with) the Edmonton Oilers, so I talked to him a little bit about it and the Oilers (are) just a great organization and I’m very excited to be here.”
The feeling is mutual with the Oilers, who got the player they had in mind when they traded with the Minnesota Wild during the first round of the draft, swapping the 20th overall selection for the 22nd and 90th selections in this year’s draft.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
“We were really excited,” Oilers Director of Amateur Scouting Tyler Wright said while speaking with media about Edmonton’s 2021 draft selections. “He was a target for us. Last night when we moved back and we were able to get the 90th pick today, I think there was a little more hope that he would be there.
“He’s a big body guy, played at the World Juniors here during Christmas time. He’s in the University of Vermont right now working out and training there. We talked at length with the people at Vermont. We’re really excited. He’s a big body guy that plays a heavy game and now we got to develop him.”
Whether Munzenberger turns out to be the steal of the draft, a wasted pick, or something in between, only time will tell. But the Oilers certainly like him, and once they get to know Munznberger, it’s hard to imagine fans in Edmonton won’t love the affable German.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.