For better or worse, the Edmonton Oilers aren’t afraid to burn years off of their prized prospects’ entry-level deals. If TSN’s Ryan Rishaug’s report is correct, they’ll continue that pattern with Leon Draisaitl.
OK, technically they stashed Darnell Nurse (seventh overall in 2013) in junior last season, but if you limit things to top-three picks/forwards, it’s an obvious trend. From Taylor Hall to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Nail Yakupov and now Draisaitl, the Oilers have opted for the instant jump each time.
Many will argue that such a gameplan is all about instant gratification instead of careful development, yet that’s up to debate, especially since it’s plausible that young forwards aren’t the ones who are most responsible for the fledgling franchise’s largest issues.*
Let’s step out of that vacuum for a moment and ponder Draisaitl’s work so far, though.
So far, the 19-year-old is averaging 13:14 minutes per game. He failed to score a point in his first three games before grabbing an assist on Oct. 15. He added another helper on Oct. 22 and scored his first goal (a game-winner) against the Carolina Hurricanes:
His possession stats are a bit challenging to decipher, which isn’t shocking considering the tiny sample size. While they look nice compared to teammates, he’s started an incredible 81 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, so it’s clear he’s heavily protected in limited minutes (so far).
Really, the Edmonton Journal’s headline from Oct. 26 probably nails it:
Leon Draisaitl: not great, not good, not bad, need to see more.
Apparently, the Oilers decided that they need to see more of him at the NHL level, in 2014-15.
This decision will produce some (justifiable) criticism, yet with Edmonton’s weakness at center – and promising winning streak – it’s also easy to see the logic of the move. Considering the hysteria generated from their lousy start, more than a few front office members might feel especially compelled to “win now.”
It looks like we’ll find out this season if Draisaitl can move the needle enough to justify the risks involved.
* – One fair criticism is that such a strategy might explain why the Oilers haven’t enjoyed much savings on “second contracts,” however. Despite a roster that hasn’t produced a playoff run, Edmonton only has about $4 million in cap space and isn’t really enjoying big savings on young players who boast better potential than results so far.