Gregor: Draisaitl intends to play in NHL this season
First-round draft pick spends summer in Edmonton to prepare for training camp
EDMONTON - It’s tough enough for young Canadian players to adapt to new surroundings while chasing their dreams of playing in the NHL.
Imagine how brave and determined kids from Europe must be to leave their parents and travel across the world to do the same thing.
I watched my older brother leave home at age 17 to play junior hockey and it is much harder than people think. You leave the safety and security of your parents, family and friends and move to a new city, in his case Portland, Ore.
It was a difficult challenge, moving into a house with a very welcoming family, but these people are usually strangers. The young players have to deal with a new environment, new cooking, a new bed and playing in a much tougher league. The American school system is also very different than Alberta’s.
Edmonton Oilers draft pick Leon Draisaitl was only 16 when he left the comforts of Cologne, Germany, and landed in Prince Albert, Sask. His parents visited him for 10 days in each of the past two seasons, but otherwise he didn’t see them.
Was he homesick?
“I don’t know if I was homesick,” Draisaitl said, hesitantly. ”The NHL has always has been my goal and my dream. I just have that passion, I guess, to do whatever it takes to follow my dream.
“Obviously, there have been times when things didn’t go my way and I would have rather been with my family than anyone else, but it’s never been bad, so I’ve always enjoyed it. I always knew I would have to move far away to fulfil my dream,” said the 18-year-old.
Draisaitl was drafted third overall by the Oilers in June. After the draft, he flew to Edmonton, addressed the media and then jumped on a bus with his fellow Oilers’ prospects and went to Jasper for a development camp. When the camp was over, most of the players went home to train and spend time with their family.
Draisaitl returned to Edmonton to prepare for his first NHL training camp.
“I have a dream and I want to make that dream happen,” he said. “Obviously, I would love to see my parents, but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t see them for a while. My goal is to play in the NHL next year and it (staying in Edmonton) is the best way to get ready and get used to the life here.
“For me, personally, it is the best decision.”
Draisaitl spoke with maturity beyond his years. Moving away forced him to grow up quickly, but throughout our conversation, he never wavered from the belief that no sacrifice was too big to stop him from achieving his goal. Despite not seeing his parents often, they are still a major influence in his life.
“I’m a really competitive guy. I know what I want and I know what I don’t want. I’m still a kid. My parents taught me a lot and they always tell me I have to know where I came from and I have to stay humble. I’m really trying to pay attention to that advice,” he said.
Draisaitl lives, eats, sleeps and breathes hockey. He is on the ice with a skating instructor Monday and Wednesdays and does off-ice training five times a week. He wants to get stronger, but stayed in Edmonton to improve two areas of his game.
“My skating and my game away from the puck,” he said. “I know what I’m able to do with the puck and what I’m capable of offensively, but (making the Oilers) will come down to my play away from the puck, and I need to get quicker and play faster.”
Draisaitl currently weighs 215 pounds, but would like to be closer to 210 for training camp. The Oilers don’t have much skilled size among their top-six forwards, especially down the middle, and if he can improve his skating, he has a chance to fulfil his NHL dream.
With his commitment and dedication, Draisaitl could become a player that many German youngsters, and even Edmonton’s youth, soon aspire to be.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on TSN 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com
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