Leon is a fantastic hockey player, simple as that. That is why the Edmonton Oilers called his name at #3 at the 2014 NHL Draft. His size, vision, and passing are all very attractive features in his game, and I always think of Anze Kopitar when I see him out on the ice. That's the type of player that Draisaitl can be, if he continues to improve upon his game. Despite this kind comparison, there are still many people that are skeptical that Leon can ever be an effective hockey player without superstar-quality linemates. His rookie season, as I mentioned, was close to a complete disaster as the Oilers once again tried to lean on the skill of an unready 18 year old to solve their center depth problem. He looked lost, he looked confused, and he definitely wasn't ready to make the jump to the NHL quite yet. He only showed significant promise when playing with Taylor Hall. This is where most people see the problem. Despite a great second season, Draisaitl has yet to prove that he can handle himself without the help of superior players. I understand why people have this sense of worry with Draisaitl, as I share it, but it is often lost that he did develop. He matched up against top competition most nights, he has learnt to deal with the NHL speed, and he now knows what success feels like. These are critical steps in his development that can't be ignored, and this should definitely show in his game this coming season.
Let's delve a little deeper into the player that Leon Draisaitl has become....
One of the more defined parts of Draisaitl's game is his silky smooth passing ability. He is a master of the craft at the young age of 20, and he made sure everyone knew it. A big part of his success last season was directly linked to him being able to keep up with a fast moving player like Hall, appealing to his playmaking style of play. He is a setup man in every sense of the word, and his elite passing skills are very important to his success on the ice. Now, it'll be hard to find a better recipient of these passes than Taylor Hall, but if he can step into training camp and continue to improve this ability, then Draisaitl is that much closer to becoming a player who can support his own line, no matter the linemates.
According to HockeyDB, Leon clocks in at being 6 foot 1 and 214lbs. That's a decently sized frame for an NHL centerman and he is slowly starting to realize the advantages of that at the NHL level. This past season we saw Draisaitl start to lean on his opponents and use his body to protect the puck. Now, these attempts had varying amounts of success, but it is something new in his game that we didn't see during his rookie stint with the team. The fact that is finally learning to utilize this quality speaks volumes to his relationship with the current coaching staff, and his willingness to improve.
One of the things that makes Draisaitl a terrific forward option is that he able to play the wing. Now, they always say that you can never have enough center-depth but, on a team with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it's always nice to have the ability to move a skilled player to a different position without worrying about how they will deal with the transition. It also opens up the possibility that if he does find himself in a rut, he can be bumped onto the wing with one of CM or RNH in an attempt to shock his game back into order. It's a matter of giving the team options, and Leon Draisaitl can be used in a variety of roles. His passing ability and size make him an attractive powerplay option, and his mammoth stick blade could give him an advantage on the penalty kill. There are no shortages of options that present themselves with Neon Leon.
Before last season I had been saying that Leon had to work on his skating and his speed, as it lacked in NHL quality in his rookie season, and it seems as though he had listened. He picked up the pace and it helped him immensely with his positioning. Upon watching his highlight reel this past season, plenty of his goals were due to him either keeping up with a speedy Taylor Hall and being in the right position at the right time. He no longer looks lost on the ice like he used to. He moves around the offensive zone constantly looking to create options for his teammates. When you combine this with his size, than you got a very solid player. This is another thing for Leon to go into training camp looking to continue to improve upon even more.
As you can see, Leon has improved many facets of his game in the past year. While Taylor Hall did play a part in the development of these improvements, I think it would be unfair to wave off Draisaitl completely. As I mentioned off the hop, Leon is a fantastic player who had the fortunate opportunity to play with one of the best LW's in the league. It's impossible to say for sure whether or not he will be able to achieve long-term success without Hall, but he does have to the tools to do so. So let's stop playing the assumption game, and give this time to play out. Nobody knows for sure.
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