© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Prince Albert Raiders forward Leon Draisaitl is looking forward to a big season for both him and his team in his second year in the WHL. The German playmaker is eligible for the next NHL draft.
WHL goaltenders might not like what they’re about to read; Leon Draisaitl plans to shoot more this season.
The German forward -- who is returning for his second year with the Prince Albert Raiders and faces the prospect of being drafted into the NHL after it’s over -- made it his summer’s work to improve his shot.
“My game is just to bring a lot of creativity into the game,” he says. “I want to just keep doing that; play my game, make things happen, be creative.
“But on the other side, I’ve definitely got to shoot more. Everybody knows that I’m probably more of a passer than a shooter but I worked on that the whole summer, just shooting. I think I got better at it.”
It’s a frightening prospect for opposing goalies, who already had to deal with his rushes and playmaking.
In his rookie campaign, Draisaitl posted 58 points on 21 goals and 37 assists. He was +22 and posted 22 penalty minutes.
He also led Team Germany with six points in the World Junior Tournament last Christmas.
“There always big expectations if you put up points, if you have quite a good first year,” he said. “For me personally, I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I just want to play my game, to be better than I was last year.”
After a strong preseason, Draisaitl collected assists in his first three games and added his first goal in his eighth game.
He went on to post 14 multi-point games during the season and a nine-game point streak in February and March.
Draisaitl says his game took a big step forward.
“I can’t even tell you how much I’ve learned here,” he says. “It’s just been a whole different level and a whole different life than back home in Germany. I think I improved as a player and really developed as a person as well.”
The 6’1, 198-pound forward, who speaks flawless English, missed more than just hockey when he returned to Germany last spring.
He’s also grown close to Carol Ring, a longtime billet for the Raiders who took him in.
“She’s a nice person,” he said. “I really miss her and my roommate (Shane Danyluk). It’s just great being back.”
There will be one big change for Draisaitl on the ice. He played most of the season with Chicago Blackhawks first rounder Mark McNeill, the Raiders team captain last season who is expected to turn pro this year.
But he points out that McNeill is not the only significant departure.
“We lost a couple of key guys,” Draisaitl said, noting the departure of players like Mark McNeill, Harrison Ruopp and Anthony Bardaro. “But I think we have a pretty good group coming back and everybody just has to get their game on another level. Everybody has to step up a little bit and we’ll be fine.”
To ensure that move forward, Draisaitl is eager to take on more of a leadership role with the club this season.
It’s a big one for him. He has been widely projected as a potential first round pick in next June’s NHL draft.
With an Oct. 27 birthday, he missed the NHL’s Sept. 15 cutoff date to go in the 2013 draft in which his teammate Josh Morrissey was picked 13th overall.
Both will surely be expected to set the example in the dressing room and on the ice.
“I want to be a leader on the team,” Draisaitl said. “There’s no doubt. I don’t know if I can expect it or not; that’s up to the coaches. I can’t tell you, to be honest. I definitely want to be a leader on that team.”