It was a subtle detail, but not for Oilers centre and alternate captain Leon Draisatl, who officially became the Art Ross Trophy winner for the player with the most points in the regular season.
“I mean, you dream of these things, no question, but until you do it always seems so far away,” Draisaitl said during his Friday virtual press conference. “I'm proud in a way of course, but I know that I still have lots of things to work on.”
Over 71 games, the Cologne, Germany native recorded 43 goals and 67 assists for 110 points to become the NHL’s leading score. If allowed to play all 82 games, he was on pace for 127 points this season – the second most by an Art Ross winner in 23 seasons (Nikita Kucherov had 128 points last year).
Draisaitl came into the league six years ago as a big, strong centre who cut his teeth in the Western Hockey League with Kelowna and Prince Albert. Until the age of 16 the son of former German national team player Peter Draisaitl played junior hockey for the organizations of Kolner Haie and Adler Mannheim in Germany. He continued to score high as a junior in Canada and was drafted third overall by the Oilers in 2014.
Many scouts thought he’d primarily be a set up man, but over the past two seasons he’s scored 50 and 43 goals respectively.
“I think I've always kind of been more of the pass-first type of guy,” Draisaitl said. “I knew early on in my career in the NHL that I have to be a threat to shoot once in a while too. Otherwise I'm too predictable.”
It also means back-back-back 100 point seasons for Draisaitl, while also not missing a game for his team for the third time in his career.
While the personal accolades are nice, there’s a larger cultural implication to Draisaitl’s award - he becomes the first German to win the Art Ross after being the highest drafted player in the country’s history.
Draisaitl also becomes the first German to win the scoring title in any major North American League – something Dirk Nowitizki never accomplished, despite a distinguished NBA career for the Dallas Mavericks.
When asked what this means for his country, Draisaitl was quick to deflect.
“You'd probably have to go around in Germany and the hockey community and around there,” he said.
“But, obviously if there's any way that I can push German hockey or make it bigger, I’m glad to do that. Of course it's my country and I want us to become a good, solid hockey nation.”
Germany captured the imagination of fans around the globe as they challenged to the final and were close to gold against the Russians.
“I think we're trending in the right direction,” he said. “Germany just isn't a big hockey country. That's just how it is. But we can still become a very solid hockey country that develops good young players.”
Draisaitl knows that events like the Olympic silver medal, the draft, and even his performance can shape and mould the country’s youth.
“If there's any chance that I can help kids fall in love with the sport more than in other years than I'll gladly do so.”
In the past two years, two Germans have been drafted in the first round -Moritz Seidler who went 6th to Detroit in 2019 and Dominik Bokk who was selected 25th by St. Louis – and there’s another one on the way.
Tim Stutzle is projected to be a top-five pick in 2020.
Draisaitl was asked if we’re seeing a “golden generation” of German hockey players, but he was quick to explain that they’ve been good for a long time.
“We've always had very good players in the NHL, it just wasn't a bunch of them. So it's not like the German hockey is just starting to get to the NHL. But I think the volume of players is becoming more and the volume of young kids coming up that have the chance or the potential to, to be NHL players is becoming more.”
Draisaitl is also a strong contender to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but he didn’t want to take focus off the playoffs.
“That'd be a great thing for me personally,” he started. “I'm very, very happy to be considered, no question, but all of the other trophies don’t matter if you don’t win in the playoffs.’
Draisaitl and the Oilers take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the new 24-team playoffs slated for later this summer.