Germany's elite hockey prospect

Posted: June 25, 2014

Second part in a series previewing the top prospects coming to Philadelphia for this week's NHL draft.

MAKING HIS way to Madison Square Garden in New York 2 weeks ago to take in his first-ever NHL game - and Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, at that - Leon Draisaitl was surprised to see the number of Rangers shirts and hats lining the street.

In his native Germany, the streets are filled with soccer paraphernalia.

"It's all about soccer," Draisaitl said with a laugh.

Especially ahead of the World Cup.

Draisaitl was talented on the pitch in elementary school. He just didn't have the interest in soccer that his classmates and friends did. He was always lured to the ice.

In fact, 2 weeks ago, Draisaitl couldn't even name the other teams in Germany's grouping at the World Cup.

Later this week, his country will be clashing with the United States for the right to advance to the Round of 16 in Brazil. Here in Philadelphia, Draisaitl will be poised to become the highest-picked German ever in the NHL draft.

Round 1 is Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Draisaitl, 18, finished the season as the fourth-ranked skater by the NHL's Central Scouting service. Nearly every mock draft scenario has Draisaitl going inside the top five; Penguins forward Marcel Goc, drafted 20th overall by San Jose in 2001, currently has the distinction of top-drafted German.

Dany Heatley was born in Germany, but both of his parents are Canadian and he was raised in Canada. Including Heatley, only 24 players born in Germany have ever made it to the NHL.

According to multiple reports, the Edmonton Oilers seem to have their eye on Draisaitl with the No. 3 overall pick.

During the NHL lockout in 2012, when stars jetted to skate in Germany, Draisaitl was already in Saskatchewan playing for the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders. While living with the same host family that nurtured Mike Modano in 1989, Draisaitl missed out as Claude Giroux and Danny Briere helped bring German hockey alive in Berlin.

"I saw a couple games on the Internet," Draisaitl said. "The average attendance went way up - pretty much because we don't produce those kind of players. They are world-class players."

Draisaitl, a creative center who racked up 105 points in his second WHL season, is on his way to becoming a world-class player. He was lured to hockey by his father, Peter, who is from the Czech Republic and played 25 years of professional hockey in Germany.

Leon Draisaitl was born in Cologne in 1995, while Peter played for the Cologne Sharks.

Peter Draisaitl was a three-time Olympian for Germany: 1988 in Calgary, 1992 in Albertville and 1994 in Lillehammer. With Canada and Germany knotted in an Olympic contest in Albertville, Eric Lindros scored in a shootout. It was Draisaitl who was tasked with keeping the German dream alive against Sean Burke.

Peter Draisaitl's shot trickled through Burke's five-hole, but stopped just short of the goal line.

For the last two seasons, Leon Draisaitl has been a continent away from his father, who is the head coach of Mountfield HK, a team in the top Czech Republic pro league.

"He is definitely the biggest influence on me," Leon Draisaitl said. "We talk pretty much every day. We use Skype or FaceTime. He watched pretty much every game this year on the Internet, using WHL Live. He's always there for me when I need him."

Like Sean Couturier, who grew up learning the game from his minor league-playing father, Draisaitl's maturity and professionalism are credited by many coaches to his upbringing.

The one knock against Draisaitl is his skating. He isn't particularly fleet of foot, but his skating is not seen by scouts as something that will prevent him from climbing to the next level.

According to NHL Central Scouting's B.J. McDonald, Draisaitl reminds him of Jaromir Jagr.

"He's the best prospect in this draft class I've seen at protecting and handling the puck," McDonald told "He protects the puck, makes those button-hook [turns] and hits guys coming in late. He'll hold on to that puck until he sees the right play to make. He has a great wrist shot and a good snap shot, and can surprise a lot of goalies with it."

There are three times as many hockey players in the Czech Republic (107,000) as there are in Germany (31,000), despite being just one-eighteenth the size in population. As soccer grabs headlines back home, Draisaitl is hoping to make his own here.

"It's hard to do something special in sports as a German, especially in hockey," Draisaitl said recently. "I'd be extremely honored and proud."

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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