The Kelowna Rockets were one goal away from winning it all.
Two nights prior, the Rockets pounded the Quebec Remparts, the hosting team, by a score of 9-3. They obliterated them in front of their own fans. The Rockets earned their way into the finals on the 31st of May, a final showdown against the Oshawa Generals, the team that defeated them on May 26th, by a score of 2-1.
Sitting in the dressing room, awaiting the tough match-up, knowing this would be no walk in the park against the undefeated Oshawa Generals, Leon Draisaitl reflected on the tournament he was having thus far. Sitting at 4 goals and 3 assists in 3 games, Draisaitl not only led his team in scoring, but the entire tournament as well. In a tournament with offensive juggernauts like Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair, or his own teammate in Nick Merkley, the higest rated 2015-eligible prospect in the tournament, Draisaitl was out-scoring them all.
And the Rockets were just one goal away from capturing the Mastercard Memorial Cup, for the first time in 10 years. Unfortunately, Draisaitl and the Rockets saw their dreams dashed when Anthony Cirelli scored in overtime to give the Generals the win. For the city of Oshawa, it was nothing but celebrations, but for Leon Draisaitl, it was a big reflection on everything he had accomplished beforehand that culminated to this very moment.
Despite failing to hold the Memorial Cup trophy above his head, Draisaitl was still named the tournament’s MVP, being awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy. A consolation prize, for what it must have felt like to Leon after losing out on the Memorial Cup, but another personal award to add to his repertoire along with the Ed Chynoweth Trophy that he received for being the tournament’s scoring leader.
While he and the Rockets couldn’t complete their tournament run in championship style, the world took notice to Leon Draisaitl. The WHL Playoffs MVP, the Memorial Cup tournament MVP and scoring leader. The Edmonton Oilers 3rd overall selection in 2014.
While his CHL career may be over, and it sure ended on a somewhat bittersweet high note, Draisaitl’s career in the big leagues is almost ready to begin, and in a big, big way.
It’s almost certain that come training camp, the German-native Draisaitl will be penciled in as one of the few hopeful prospects to crack the 2015-16 Edmonton Oilers line-up. Already loaded with youth and promise, the Oilers are primed to select Connor McDavid with their first overall selection, which doesn’t bode well for Draisaitl, who plays center just like McDavid. However Draisaitl has already been battle tested, playing 37 games with the Oilers, and his 6’1, 210-pound physical frame is certainly built for the NHL.
He may have only put up 9 points on the board but the Oilers weren’t winning too many games and were generally a poor team, from top-to-bottom, so it’s hard to pin the blame on Draisaitl. In fact, his puck possession numbers were fairly good, among the top of the line-up, but he also received sheltered minutes and 42% of his face-off starts were in the offensive zone as opposed to 11% in the defensive zone. Still, with his accolades this year, both in the WHL and the Memorial Cup, Draisaitl stands a good chance of making the Oilers roster as a 19-year-old.
And if he doesn’t make it, that’s okay too. Ryan Johansen, Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Turris all made the NHL in their second year after being drafted but were all sent down to the AHL to hone their craft and receive the proper seasoning needed. Today, all three have prominent careers at the NHL level.
So whether Leon suits up for the Oilers this year, or his progression goes down the AHL route for one year, the one thing that the Memorial Cup has taught everyone is that Leon Draisaitl is the prospect the Edmonton management crew believed him to be when they selected him in 2014.