This season, centre Leon Draisaitl became the first Prince Albert Raider since Steve Kelly in 1996 to hit the 100-point plateau. In his second WHL season, Draisaitl scored 38 goals and 67 assists as he heads into the 2014 NHL Entry Draft where he is projected to be selected in the top five. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
The mood was solemn at the Art Hauser Centre on Thursday, as the Prince Albert Raiders cleaned out their lockers before heading home.
A disappointing end to a season that began with high expectations as the Raiders came flying out the gate, winning five straight games to kick off the campaign and at one point were assessed as one of the top teams in the CHL.
Swept by the Edmonton Oil Kings in the first round of the playoffs, Raiders captain Josh Morrissey said although he feels the team made big strides towards future success, they can’t help but feel a better fate was deserved.
“Quite frankly, I still think we were ‘in’ the playoffs,” Morrissey said. “We should have won Games 2 and 3, but I guess an overall look back at the season, you can say it was a bit of an disappointment. We believed we had a chance to be a contender for the league.”
Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl, who tallied a goal and two assists in the playoffs, agreed.
“The series was definitely closer than it looked,” Draisaitl said following one-on-one meetings between players and coaching staff on Thursday. “In my opinion we could have easily won the first two games. We played a good series so we can be proud of ourselves.”
Outscored in the conference quarter-final series 18-9, the Raiders struggled to break through the Oil Kings solid defensive unit and the stellar goaltending of Tristan Jarry.
On the other end of the ice, playing the final games of his WHL career, overage Raiders backstop Cole Cheveldave played some of his best hockey of the season, stopping 119 of 129 shots faced in the four-game series.
Meanwhile, the Oil Kings power play wreaked havoc on the Raiders, converting at a rate of 41.7 per cent.
With the season now behind them, Morrissey and Draisaitl look ahead to the next step of their careers, which may or may not involve the Raiders.
Morrissey has an NHL entry-level deal with the Winnipeg Jets in his pocket while Draisaitl looks forward to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, where he is projected to be selected in the top-five.
Whether or not the pair return for another season with the Raiders remains uncertain as their fate rests in the hands of both themselves and their NHL superiors.
“I would love to come back but at the same time I want to keep going and play at the next level,” Draisaitl said of his future. “I’ll see where I land.”
Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish recently paid a visit to the Art Hauser Centre and it is rumoured his organization is high on the German power-forward.
Meanwhile, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has also been seen in Prince Albert, possibly mulling over whether or not to bring Morrissey into the fold next season.
Morrissey said he is likely to join the Jets AHL affiliate St. Johns IceCaps to finish off their campaign and “do some damage” in the playoffs.
“I believe that’s the plan,” Morrissey said. “Next week I’ll get home, have a few days to wind down and then head out there for their playoff run.”
The IceCaps currently sit fourth in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with a record of 41-21-4.
When asked if he feels he is ready for the NHL or if he would benefit from another year of junior with the Raiders, Morrissey said he is motivated to make the next step.
“A lot of it is in my control with how hard I train during the summer,” he explained. “I have goals where I want to come into NHL camp stronger and with a higher weight.”
Selected 13th overall in last year’s NHL draft, Morrissey has already played in a NHL exhibition game and attended a Jets training camp.
Doing all he can do to get to the NHL, Morrissey understands several factors are out of his control.
“You never know what can happen,” Morrissey said. “They (Jets) could bring in another d-man or maybe someone gets hurt. I am going to train my hardest to try and make Winnipeg next year, but either way if I come back to P.A. or not I’ll get better.”
Draisaitl’s NHL prospects
Without taking the NHL’s draft-lottery procedure into consideration, it can be assumed that if the NHL regular season ended today, the league’s bottom five teams will select first in the 2014 Entry Draft.
As of Friday, those five teams include the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames.
2013-2014 Prince Albert Raiders regular season
35-32-5 -- Eighth in the Eastern Conference
GF -- 243 (10th)
GA -- 258 (16th)
Power play -- 24.9% (third)
Penalty kill -- 80.7% (eighth)
Penalty minutes -- 824 (21st)
Longest streaks -- 5W, 7L