Oilers Need Draisaitl to Become Better On-Ice Leader

Most people consider Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid the best hockey player in the world. However, not far behind him is his partner in crime Leon Draisaitl. The two have formed the most dynamic duo the NHL has seen in some time, posting numbers that sometimes resemble the Gretzky-era Oilers of the ’80s.

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The two have also received their fair share of criticism over the years. McDavid’s effort in the defensive zone has taken flack in the past, and to his credit, he has worked hard to round out that part of his game. For Draisaitl, his defensive play isn’t the strongest part of his game, though it too has improved from when he first entered the league; it could be better, but it isn’t the biggest issue.

Draisaitl’s Body Language

Throughout his Oilers career and particularly in recent seasons, Draisaitl has been very candid with the media. It is clear when he’s in a good mood and more obvious when he is not, and his moods are almost always directly related to his team’s recent performance.

His comments to the media are those of a great leader. He places plenty of blame on himself when the team is going through tough stretches and isn’t afraid to call out the group when they struggle. It is always clear that he cares and wants to win as badly as anybody. While his off-ice leadership seems to be phenomenal, his on-ice leadership could use some work.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Draisaitl wears his emotions on his sleeve. Watching him shift after shift, it’s easy to figure out if the Oilers are winning or losing without knowing the box score. When things are going well, he is engaged and often the most dominant player on the ice, creating scoring chances while breaking up plays in his own end, thanks to his great hustle.

When times are tough, Draisaitl is prone to sulking on the ice. In one sense, his frustration is understandable, given how much he puts into each game, but it isn’t what you want to see from a leader. Monday night’s loss to the New Jersey Devils was a perfect example of how he reacts when things aren’t going right.

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Far too often on Monday, Draisaitl was extremely slow getting up after being knocked off the puck; it isn’t the first time he’s done this, so we can assume it’s not injury-related. He also extends his shifts, which can result in slow and lazy play. Against the Devils, he showed zero hustle getting to the bench for a line change seconds before a Damon Severson goal against.

Of course, Draisaitl was far from the only player deserving blame on this tally. Jesse Puljujarvi was far too late changing his focus to Jesper Bratt, while Stuart Skinner might have slipped and was well out of position by the time Severson fired a shot his way. Still, that effort, or lack thereof, from Draisaitl is unacceptable for any player, let alone one of his stature.

Had this been the first time Draisaitl reacted this way, all would be forgiven. However, that isn’t the case, as his bad body language has been a topic of discussion before and will be again if he doesn’t improve on it.

Draisaitl Can Be Better

Again, Draisaitl’s passion and will to win aren’t in question. He proved in last season’s playoffs while battling a sprained ankle just how badly he wants his team to succeed and the lengths he will go to ensure that happens. That said, he needs to be more aware of how much the team follows his lead. Sulking and playing long and sometimes lazy shifts when the Oilers are losing don’t set a good example. He is far from the problem, but displays like the ones he showed on Monday, do not help.

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