EDMONTON, Alta. – Recovered, rested and ready.
It’s been almost four months since Leon Draisaitl was taken down by Los Angeles defenseman Mikey Anderson in Game 6 of the Oilers Round 1 win over the Kings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The ensuing, much-talked-about high ankle sprain, which forced the superstar to battle pain for the remainder of the Oilers’ Western Conference final run, is now behind Draisaitl.
Speaking to the media after Friday’s informal intrasquad scrimmage in which he scored the opening goal, the 26-year-old has his sights set on the Oilers’ 2022 training camp.
“It took a bit of time obviously – a bit limited on a bunch of things this summer, but obviously you’re trying to work around it as well as you can and get ready in two weeks,” Draisaitl said.
Almost despite his injury, a visibly hard-working Draisaitl rode a torrid playoff pace, finishing the playoffs with 32 points (7G, 25A) in just 16 games. His numbers were buoyed by a Round 2 series against provincial rival Calgary Flames where Draisaitl set a playoff points record in a five-game series with an incredible 17 (2G, 15A) in the 4- 1 of the Oilers.
The German admits he had to increase his style of play to find success when he was far from 100%, but the adjustment may have been to his advantage ahead of a new campaign with nobles team goals in everyone’s mind.
Video: RAW | Leon Draisaitl
“I think it helped my game a lot actually,” Draisaitl said. “It forced me to find different ways to be productive and bring my game to our team – which at first was hard to understand, but you understand. It develops you as a complete hockey player, knowing that there is another game you can play It’s very soothing, exciting… I don’t know if exciting is the right word… it feels good to know that I can play a different game and have a bit of success.
Fast forward to September and the precipice of an all-new season, last season’s racing experience has Draisaitl ready for a repeat. However, the Oilers’ 110-point man knows last year’s experience counts for nothing if the team can’t follow up with another long playoff streak.
“You take the positives out of it, you learn from the negatives, and you move on next season,” Draisaitl said. “We know how tough it is (to get to the Western Conference Finals) and we’re ready for it.”
With many outside expectations of a solid season for the Blue & Orange, Draisaitl was careful to remind everyone that nothing is taken for granted and the road to the playoffs is rocky. Moderating expectations keeps the Oilers focused on consistent messages from last season, like “taking care of the business of the day” and “better than the day before.”
“We did that (won a playoff round) in 2017 and the next year we missed the playoffs,” Draisaitl said. “We know how hard it is to get back there. We know what it is and how much work you have to put in over 82 games to even have a chance. We start from game 1 and we try to build our game and improve from there.”
Video: RAW | Jack Campbell
The Oilers are coming off an offseason that maintains what is basically a very similar roster to the team the previous year. Hockey Operation general manager and president Ken Holland was able to hold on to major mid-season acquisitions in Evander Kane and Brett Kulak, while stabilizing his goalie with the addition of former Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell. With the core group intact and ready to go, Draisaitl and the Oilers are looking to pick up where they left off last June.
“There’s a certain familiarity, I think everyone knows where it is and what kind of game we want to play,” Draisaitl said. “Sometimes it makes things easier, especially at the start of the season. I like how our group looks and everyone is happy to be back.”
The Oilers got off to a torrid start to start their season 21-22, sporting a 9-1 record after the team’s first 10 games. However, a mid-season lull saw the eventual dismissal of then head coach Dave Tippett and the installation of Bakersfield boss Jay Woodcroft with great success. As the Oilers’ fortunes turned after Woodcroft’s arrival, that strong start was instrumental in providing the Oilers with a cushion to work with when it came to locking down a playoff spot.
Draisaitl was already eyeing the six-game home stand at Rogers Place to start the upcoming season as something to work on ahead of September’s Oilers training camp.
“Departures are important,” he said. “We’re looking to get off to a good start, no doubt. With six home games, it’s essential that we come out of the gate with a positive record. That’s what we’re working towards.”