Leon Draisaitl (Melissa Baecker/Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers prospect has been great during his tenure in North America, but a mid-season trade to the Kelowna Rockets helped him gain something elusive: team success
QUEBEC CITY - There has never been a German prospect as highly touted as Leon Draisaitl and it was no surprise that he was snapped up with the third overall pick by Edmonton in the 2014 NHL draft. But throughout all the points and all the minutes he logged since coming over to North America in 2012-13, the big center had never experienced team success - until now.
Draisaitl spent his first two years in the WHL with Prince Albert, where the Raiders squeaked into the post-season thanks to their German import and Winnipeg Jets prospect Josh Morrissey. But both runs ended quickly in the first round. Internationally, Draisaitl did all he could for Germany at the 2014 world juniors in Sweden, but it almost ended up being too much: His overflowing passion and self-induced pressure conspired to see him take a boatload of penalties, including two misconducts. Germany survived relegation and he played a big role, but it wasn't exactly the pinnacle of achievements.
This season, he made the Edmonton Oilers out of camp, getting good experience on a struggling team. He was controversially kept off the 2015 German world junior squad by Edmonton brass, then sent back to junior after the tourney ended. But thanks to a trade, Draisaitl would be suiting up for the powerhouse Kelowna Rockets instead.
Now two games away from a Memorial Cup title after helping the Rockets cruise to the WHL championship in dominating fashion, Draisaitl is in a happy, if unfamiliar place.
“It's a little different," he said. "The attitude is much different: the Rockets are expected to win almost every year. That helped me as a person and as a player.”
Needless to say, the supporting cast in Kelowna is a cut above Prince Albert, especially since Raiders teammate Morrissey was also traded to the Rockets this season. Washington pick Madison Bowey is another great D-man on the squad, while Sharks pick Rourke Chartier and 2015 prospect Nick Merkley are excellent weapons in their own right.
Merkley, slated to be a mid-first round pick this summer, has been a great running mate for Draisaitl lately.
“He's a tremendous player, very smart," Draisaitl said. "He hunts puck like no one else. I've never seen anybody hunt pucks harder than he does. He's got great vision and he's a lot of fun to play with.”
If Kelowna can knock off Quebec tonight, the Rockets will head to Sunday's final against the Oshawa Generals. This represents Draisaitl's best shot at more junior glory before the NHL beckons once again and the teen is not taking this special chance for granted.
“No one wants to end the season tonight," he said. "You have to put it all on the line and we'll see how it goes from there.”