If we are to believe what the Oilers General Manager says, it’s safe to assume that Sheriff MacT moseyed into Philadelphia on Friday, and got the man he was looking for. Now what?
The moment Leon Draisaitl strode to the podium and pulled on the Copper & Blue, the debate began: Where should he play next year? Trains of thought range from putting him at 2C spot on Game 1 of 2014-15, to returning him to junior for (at least) another year. There is some merit to both.
The safe thing? Would be for the organization to decide that he go directly back to junior, and not be rushed as numerous other Oilers prospects have. Some have already read into comments made by Dallas Eakins that this is exactly what should happen. That is not without validity: Let him develop physically, with the opportunity to dominate at a lower level, don’t force him to learn on the job against men, don’t erode his confidence and (potentially) set back his development by putting him in situations where he can’t succeed, etc.
I fear, however, that this logic is somewhat misguided.
First, Draisaitl is closing in on 6’2, 210 pounds. He is already performing inside of a man’s frame. As good as Darnell Nurse looked in main camp last Fall, it was clear he has not yet filled out yet. We hear he’s coming to Edmonton this Fall at 6’4 205. Worth the wait? It would seem so.
Second, Draisaitl has already dominated in junior. He scored 105 points in 64 games on a very, very average Prince Albert club. The next closest Raider trailed by 30 points. How, exactly, will returning him to a mediocre team help his development? Good players need to play with good players.
Draisaitl could probably go to the World Junior Championships again. But like a potential return to Prince Albert, Draisaitl will be head-and-shoulders better than everyone else on a brutal German Nation Junior club. If anything, that is likely to hurt his confidence.
Some argue he may not yet be ready to be a 2C in the NHL. That’s entirely likely. It’s why I think we’d all be better off if the Oilers sign a UFA for the 2C position, and play Draisaitl on the 3rd line, where they can regulate his minutes and shelter him from tougher opposition.
But most importantly, let the kid ride into camp and either make the hockey club or not, on merit. To predestine a player such as him to the WHL is not how you should incent world-class talent.
If he turns out to be the 2nd or 3rd best center in camp, he makes the squad. If he’s “Big Hat, No Cattle”, he’ll know he did not earn it. The demotion will organically instill him with the drive to improve.
But the Oilers need to allow this kid to sit in the saddle and see if he can ride.