Monday, September 10, 2012

An Impressive Import: Leon Draisaitl

This past weekend I had a chance to see a very exciting new player on the Prince Albert Raiders roster.

That player is none other than Leon Draisaitl, an impressive 16 year old European who was the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft.  In the two games I got to see from him, it's clear why he was the 2nd overall pick in that draft and why he's earned the nickname "The German Gretzky."

Ok, the Gretzky part does go too far, but he still has all the skills to be considered a very top-end prospect.

At the time of the Import Draft, I knew that he was considered a solid offensive player who had good size.  But that's the first thing I noticed about him, the fact that he's clearly grown over the last calendar year.  On his prospect profile at Eliteprospects.com he's listed at 6'0 and 179 pounds.  As it stands right now, he's listed at 6'1, 198 pounds on the WHL's website and actually looks closer to 6'2 on the ice. He definitely knows how to use that size.

Draisaitl needs to work on his skating, as most 16 year old's do, especially without the puck.  His stride is a bit clunky and his acceleration isn't great, but overall his speed is pretty good.  The interesting thing about his skating is that it looks like it improves immensely as soon as he has the puck on his stick.  He puts his head down, skates aggressively and knows where to go with it and what lanes to drive.

To go along with his skating with the puck, he also protects the puck well.  In the offensive zone he's not afraid to put his ass towards the defender and use his long arms to keep the defenders away.  His size also helps him absorb hits.  In one impressive play during the game on Friday night, he carried the puck over the blueline, absorbed a big check, was able to still control the puck, get it to a teammate, then drive the net for a tap-in rebound goal.  He actually scored two goals just minutes apart in the game, both from on top of the crease.

That's arguably the most impressive thing about him.  He's got good hockey sense and is very aggressive in his reads all over the ice.  He gets the puck over the blueline and doesn't mess around.  He simply goes to the net.  It might not be the most electrifying style of game to play, but it's effective and it will get him noticed in a league known for aggressive players.

Another strength of his game from what I saw was his vision.  He made fantastic little plays with the puck that might go unnoticed by the average fan, but clearly weren't missed by me as I paid extra close attention to his game.  As one example he came over the blueline down the left hand side (he's a left hand shot), turned towards the boards when the defender angled him towards the hashmarks, and simply sent a soft backhand saucer pass across the slot to a defenceman pinching down the slot in the backdoor.  It was an effortless play, all done in one smooth motion and was something you simply don't see in the WHL from very many 16 year olds...let alone a kid that's playing his first ever true game in the WHL.

Draisaitl has many positives going for him, a good attitude, good hockey sense, a nose for the net and a fantastic skillset.  I was definitely impressed with him in my first two live viewings of him.  I am looking forward to watching him grow and develop, especially while playing behind/alongside a first round NHL pick in Mark McNeill for Prince Albert.  That's going to be great for him in a ton of different ways.

These were my first two viewings of the German Gretzky, who's not even NHL draft eligible until 2014 and at this point I would hesitate to make a draft pick prediction.  But, they surely won't be my last viewings and I look forward to seeing how else he can impress me over the next couple of seasons.

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