EDMONTON — It was a handy bit of short-sightedness that awarded Leon Draisaitl, the best European forward in the game today, to the Edmonton Oilers back in 2014.
Tim Murray, the newly minted general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, vowed that he would not take a European player with the Sabres’ second-overall draft pick that spring because the Sabres had selected five Europeans in a row with the last five first-round picks.
Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Joel Armia … . It had to end, right?
Murray had arrived in Western New York and he was hell-bent on changing the Sabres’ identity. So he selected Sam Reinhart at No. 2, and the Edmonton Oilers were bequeathed a German lad named Leon Draisaitl.
That kid from Cologne would become a walk-in Hall of Famer.
“He is hockey sense personified,” began his head coach Jay Woodcroft, after a 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, where Draisaitl summitted, at age 27, the 100-point plateau for the fourth time. “The definition of what the modern-day power forward looks like — or should look like. When he’s at his very best, his 200-foot game is so strong, because he’s hard to contain in all three zones.
“In the offensive zone, when he’s holding people off, making plays in tight spaces. In the neutral zone, when he’s coming through with speed, and making good decisions with the puck. And in the defensive zone, when he really leans on someone, he’s a big man.”
Just 624 games into a 716-point career, let’s talk about how good Draisaitl truly is, and where he ranks among the greats in the game.
Is he the best European forward in the game today? Well, David Pastrnak was in that 2014 draft, and has 123 fewer points than Draisaitl.
Nikita Kucherov? He has the Cups, but in the last four seasons, he has 154 fewer points than Draisaitl.
Victor Hedman? Andrei Vasilevskiy? That’s a debate, the best European player, we’ll need a waiter and few pints to undertake.
But this stat lends some history to the conversation: With his fourth 100-point season, Draisaitl joins an uber-elite group of five other European-born players who have accomplished that feat.
Peter Stastny (seven times), Jari Kurri (six), Jaromir Jagr (five), Teemu Selanne, Alex Ovechkin and Draisaitl (four each).
“That is pretty cool. There are some pretty great hockey players there,” said Draisaitl, who has 44 goals and 56 assists in 66 games this season. “I have been very fortunate to have played with some amazing hockey players in Nuge, Connor, Hyms, Kaner, all those guys. Even the years prior.
“They find me and put me in spots where I can succeed and I obviously don’t want that to go unnoticed. A big-time thank you to them.”
Draisaitl from the right faceoff dot has become every bit as deadly as Alex Ovechkin from the left. In fact, in the past four seasons, Draisaitl has outscored Ovechkin, 173 goals to 158.
Only Auston Matthews has more goals (179), but he trails Draisaitl in points over that span by a whopping 85. Oh, and Draisiatl is his team’s best faceoff man and a top penalty killer, when required.
The son of German hockey royalty, the former national teamer Peter Draisaitl — notoriously driven when it comes to his son — should enjoy a Schnapps back home in Cologne.
“He doesn’t give me too many compliments,” said the son, laughing. “He just tells me to stick to what I do and to keep going and keep pushing, keep pushing. It is always the same, but I am sure he is proud.”
Almost certainly, this will be Draisaitl’s third 50-goal season, and his fourth 100-point season — three of them coinciding. Since the turn of the century, only Ovechkin (four times), Jagr and Dany Heatley (twice) have had 50 and 100 in a season more than once.
How good is this guy?
Well, Peter Forsberg never had a 50-goal season.
Pavel Bure had only two 100-point seasons. Sergei Fedorov: scored 50 once, had 100 points twice. Evgeni Malkin: one 50-goal season; three with 100 points.
Now, what Draisaitl needs is a Stanley Cup. We get that.
Playing on a high-ankle sprain incurred in Round 1 versus the Los Angeles Kings, Draisaitl put up an amazing 17 points in a five-game series against Calgary, when he could barely walk out of the rink on his own power.
“He’s ultra-competitive,” said Woodcroft. “But what stands out for me with Leon Draisaitl is his hockey sense. That play against Winnipeg, when he had the understanding to put the net back on (its mooring), and then shoot it in a little corner, that’s what I think of when I think of Leon Draisaitl.”
Here’s another whacky stat, as Draisaitl joins Connor McDavid with 100 points or more — the only two NHL players in triple digits this season. They did the same thing last season, a feat that has been accomplished in back-to-back seasons only once before.
Do you know who the other two were?
How about Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in 1973-74, and ’74-75?
Yep, that’s the company that Leon Draisaitl keeps.