Prince Albert Raider's center Leon Draisaitl is a top prospect for 2014 NHL Draft. (Photo c/o Yahoo Sports Canada)
When the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL selected center Leon Draisaitl with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, there was some concern the German native wouldn’t agree to join the club. In the past, it’s been tough for smaller market junior clubs to attract the top European talent. Prince Albert is the third-largest city in Saskatchewan with less than 40,000 people, and is situated in the center of the province roughly 240 plus miles north of the provincial capital of Regina.
Draisaitl didn’t immediately sign with the Raiders, as he had other options in Sweden and Finland, but ultimately decided that the CHL was the right route for him.
The Cologne native had a solid WHL rookie campaign where he posted 21 goals and 37 assists for 58 points in 64 games played. He played predominantly on the Raiders top line with Chicago Blackhawks 2011 first-rounder Mark McNeill and Anthony Bardaro. Currently, Draisaitl leads the Raiders in scoring with 19 goals and 37 assists for 56 points in 38 games played.
NHL Central Scouting lists the speedy center as their No. 2 overall North American skater in their midterm rankings. ISS Hockey lists Draisaitl as their No. 7 overall prospect in their January rankings. He has drawn several comparisons to current and former NHL stars, including Marian Hossa and the legendary No. 99.
The Gretzky comparison is preposterous and farfetched. However, he did post stats in German junior leagues that are Gretzky-like. Draisaitl scored 97 goals and 192 points in 29 games for Mannheimer Under-16 in 2010-11. The next season he registered 21 goals and 56 points in 35 games for Jungadler Mannheim Under-18. Yes, the leagues he played in aren’t on the same level as North America's best junior leagues. But still, he scored 248 points in just 64 games. That's impressive in any league, let alone the best junior leagues Germany has to offer.
So what does Leon bring to the table?
First off, from what I’ve seen his vision and smarts off the charts. He’s a blend of skill and power and he can excel in either style. His power comes from his willingness to battle and his determination to be the best on the ice.
At 6’2, 208 pounds, he already has the size to play in the pros. He’s more of a playmaker than a scorer, but Draisaitl has shown that he can be an offensive catalyst night in, night out, for bad Raiders team. He should have a good opportunity to make the jump to the NHL next year.
Here is good visual example of how dynamic Draisaitl can be.
The Marian Hossa comparison is fair one, although Hossa is a far better skater. Draisaitl is not that explosive off the line and doesn't blow past guys. He is able to keep up with the play and gets everywhere he needs to go. He’s quick and crafty in the corners.
It’s very likely Draisaitl will unseat fellow countryman Marcel Goc (20th overall, 2001 NHL Draft) as the highest native German player chosen in the NHL Draft. Dany Heatley (2nd overall, 2000 NHL Draft) is a Canadian who was born in Germany.
Draisaitl didn’t have the best WJC playing for Germany, but I don’t blame him given the lack of talent he was surrounded with. His play in Malmo shouldn’t hurt his draft stock as I expect Draisaitl will be a top five pick come June and he could go top 3 or 4 depending on which team is drafting.
Draisaitl has the potential to be Germany’s first NHL superstar and it would be spectacular for a country that hasn’t produced much NHL talent. No disrespect to Dennis Seidenberg, Jochen Hecht, Marcel Goc, Christian Ehroff, Uwe Krupp, or Marco Sturm, but Draisaitl is the best German prospect ever.