With the orchestration of Leon Draisaitl’s return to junior now complete — after Edmonton sent him back to WHL Prince Albert, the Raiders flipped him to league powerhouse Kelowna — Oilers GM Craig MacTavish insisted that keeping Draisaitl at the NHL level for the first three months of the season was the right move.
“This is going to be extremely important for his development,” MacTavish explained, per the Oilers website. “But I don’t view his 40 games here as time wasted at all.”
The issue many have, of course, is that the Oilers essentially burned a year of Draisaitl’s entry-level deal by rushing him to the NHL, then keeping him too long. The team was miserable with him in the lineup and it appeared to be taking its toll mentally — “I was happier with Leon’s performance than Leon was,” MacTavish explained.
Draisaitl also struggled playing center in a loaded Pacific Division (and Western Conference, for that matter), finishing with a minus-17 rating and 40.6 percent faceoff percentage.
Edmonton could’ve sent Draisaitl back to junior at the nine-game mark without burning a year. Instead, they’ll now send him back midway through the season, but with a legitimate shot at winning a Memorial Cup.
The Rockets are the class of the WHL this season — a league-best 31-6-3 — and boast a number of talented players, including defensemen Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey, both of whom helped Canada win gold at the World Juniors on Monday night.
“We had a specific destination in mind for Leon,” MacTavish explained. “It was very unlikely that he’d be re-assigned back to P.A.
“I had this specific situation [Kelowna] that I thought was going to be ideal for Leon. If that situation was satisfied, then there’d be a likelihood that we’d send him back. I think for obvious reasons, Kelowna was the destination.”
Even with his No. 3 pick leaving town, MacTavish still found positives with both Drasaitl’s time in Edmonton, and what the future has in store.
“I think it was time well spent for him,” he explained. “But I think everybody can understand our rationale for sending him back to Kelowna to have this experience.”