Leon Draisaitl focused on team success with Edmonton Oilers
'The individual part he’s proven, he wants the Oilers to become a really good team and that’s where we’re at'
Leon Draisaitl keeps raising the bar, so expectations are high for the Edmonton Oilers forward heading into the season.
A year ago, Draisaitl, 25, was the second-best offensive player in the NHL next to teammate Connor McDavid, and had the season not been reduced to 56 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, would have posted a third consecutive 100-point year.
Draisaitl finished with 31 goals and 84 points in 56 games, as the Oilers finished second in the Scotia North, all-Canadian division. He added two goals and five points as the Oilers fell in four straight games to the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round of the playoffs.
“He’s come in in great shape; phenomenal shape with his testing,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “You think of him as a great player, but he’s a bull out there. He’s physically strong and in great shape. You talk about leadership and when we’re out there, he’s the first in line to do everything.
“When you’re trying to find clips to show the team, good clips, Leon and Connor show up in those clips a lot. Young players see that, they see what he does on the ice and they see how hard they work and Leon wants bigger and better things. The individual part he’s proven, he wants the Oilers to become a really good team and that’s where we’re at.”
Team success is what drives Draisaitl this season. Having proven to be one of the elite players in the NHL, the Cologne, Germany, product wants to help lead the Oilers on an extended playoff run. The Oilers have one playoff series win in the past 15 years.
Last season, Edmonton lost three of its four playoff games to the Jets in overtime.
“Our focus is on the regular season, there’s no doubt about that,” Draisaitl said Friday. “We have to get there first to make a push, really go deep and go for it.
“We’ve learned from last year. I think we can all agree that we didn’t play bad. Maybe the bounces weren’t there but that’s also something that you have to earn. Sometimes something like that is good for a team, as much as it hurts in that moment, we’ll be better for it.”
Since arriving as the third-overall pick in 2014 and first-overall pick in 2015, respectively, the Oilers have relied almost exclusively on Draisaitl and McDavid for success.
This season, coming out from under salary-cap purgatory, Oilers general manager Ken Holland has managed to bring in help. While Draisaitl and McDavid will still drive the bus, they may not have to put up multiple points every night for the team to be successful.
“This is the deepest group (of forwards) that we’ve had, maybe since I’ve been here,” Draisaitl said. “In 2017, obviously we had a really deep team, but I think it just gives us more options for the future. We’re maybe a little bit more of an unpredictable group than we have been in the past.”
The Oilers are also a more educated group. While just getting to the playoffs was an accomplishment when Draisaitl was finding his way through the league, now the Oilers have two consecutive postseason disappointments to draw experience from.
Both times they were favoured to advance beyond the opening round, and both times they faltered, losing the best-of-five play-in series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019, and then dropping the series against the Jets.
“Honestly, I thought we were the better team in all four games,” Draisaitl said of the series against Winnipeg. “It’s really hard to pinpoint one thing; it’s just little things. We couldn’t score at the right times.
“Personally, that’s the main issue. We couldn’t find that goal that put you ahead or puts the game out of reach. We couldn’t score at the right time, and that’s something we can learn from.”
Having both reached the summit, individually, with three Hart Trophies between them, Draisaitl and McDavid are dedicated to turning the Oilers into a Stanley Cup contender. Part of the team-first attitude was committing to be more responsible defensively.
“Both of us, we always want to get better,” Draisaitl said. “We knew coming in last year that we had to change our mindset a little bit and the way we played. I do still think there’s lots of room for improvement. We’re going to continue to work away at it and try to get better at it. The offence will take care of itself.”
Starting the season, Draisaitl and McDavid are expected to centre their own line, but Tippett will not hesitate to play the duo together when necessary. Fortunately for Tippett, Draisaitl is used to making the transition from centre to McDavid’s wingman, seamlessly.
“We’re going to try a number of different things at training camp to see how it goes,” Tippett said. “But you don’t have to watch a lot of hockey to understand when they’re together they’re something special. That being said, we need to find more balance in our lineup.
“There’ll be times when, for the most part, they’re apart, and then there’ll be times when they’re on the power play together. There are times in the game when I’ll find some time for them together. I think they kind of like it that way. They like the ability to be able to jump together, but they both want to take the responsibility of having a balanced team, also. We’ll see how it goes in a game-to-game situation. It’s a nice card to have in your pocket.”