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Rockets star Draisaitl has no regrets of mid-season return to junior hockey

05/21/2015 06:04 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 05:59 EDT
QUEBEC - Leon Draisaitl has no regrets about being returned to junior hockey in mid-season by the Edmonton Oilers.

After posting two goals and seven assists in 37 NHL games, the big centre drafted third overall last June was returned to the Price Albert Raiders, only to have to his rights dealt to the powerhouse Kelowna Rockets.

The German has flourished with the Western Hockey League champions, and now will try to help them win a MasterCard Memorial Cup.

While the demotion may have stung at the time, Draisaitl sees nothing but good in it now.

"They gave me a chance to play in the NHL," he said Thursday. "As an 18 year old kid, what more can you ask than to play in the NHL and be given the chance to prove yourself and play in the best league there is?

"I'm not disappointed at all. I think getting sent down was not a bad thing at all. I know a lot of people think it's a step down but a lot of times it's a step up. It's sometimes better for your confidence. I'm excited to be here and so far, we've had a very successful run and we want to keep that going."

The Rockets open the four-team tournament Friday night at the Pepsi Colisee.

Kelowna loaded up on talent in December and January, also acquiring defenceman and Winnipeg Jets first round pick Josh Morrissey and forward Gage Quinney from Prince Albert for two players and two draft picks.

The six-foot-one 210-pound Draisaitl led the Rockets with 28 points in 19 playoffs games. After not winning a post-season game with Price Albert, he found himself on a team that went 16-3 in the playoffs.

"At first I think he put all the pressure on himself and after a couple of games, when he wasn't quite himself, he realized 'Hey, all I need to do is just contribute and play the best I can,'" coach Dan Lambert said of Draisaitl's return to junior. "Since then he's been outstanding."

He will be one of the star attractions of the Memorial Cup.

And while he was gone, big things have happened in Edmonton.

Ex-Boston Bruins boss Peter Chiarelli is the new general manager, former San Jose Sharks bench boss Todd McClelland is the new coach and the Oilers won the draft lottery, allowing them to pick first overall for the fourth time in five years and giving them first dibs at projected franchise player Connor McDavid.

"He's a game-changing player right?" said Draisaitl. "So having a guy like him in your organization is very exciting. I can't wait to see him."

Landing the top pick has led some to speculate that the Oilers may trade some of their young talent for much needed help on defence and in goal, however.

"That's business," he said. "Whatever happens, I'm not the GM or the coach.

"To me, it comes down to camp and, hopefully it will be with the Oilers. But if something happens you never know. I can't really do anything against it. It's still early in the summer and I think there's going to be lots of moves done so we'll see how the Oilers are going to look."

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