Los Angeles What has been hinted at for some time is now perfect: The Edmonton Oilers will meet the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL playoffs. For Leon Draisaitl, this is the next step towards the hoped-for Stanley Cup – his former national coach wants to prevent him from doing so.
Whenever Marco Sturm talks about Leon Draisaitl, the former national ice hockey coach gets enthusiastic. “I think Leon is not only a great player, but also a great guy. That’s why I’m also a big fan of his,” says the assistant coach of the Los Angeles Kings of the German Press Agency. And then pushes afterwards: “But that’s on hold for a few weeks now.”
Because the Kings have been qualified for the NHL play-offs since Tuesday evening (local time) – for the first time since Sturm switched from the German Ice Hockey Federation to the NHL after the Olympic sensation in 2018 with silver in Pyeongchang – and meet there in the first round on Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers.
It doesn’t matter what happens in the remaining games of the main round until Friday. The 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins put the Oilers second in the Pacific Division and secure home advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Kings were able to sit back and watch from the Seattle hotel as pursuers Vegas Golden Knights lost to the Dallas Stars in a penalty shootout and fell third on the table. The duel of the Oilers with the Kings, Germany’s best ice hockey professional with his predecessor as the German record goalscorer in the NHL, now on the opponent’s coaching bench, is perfect. It starts next week.
“The goal is to win the Stanley Cup. We’re glad we’re in. Step one is done,” said Draisaitl immediately after qualifying at the weekend. It’s that one title he’s missing in North America, the one that drives him and means more to him than any awards for his years of outstanding performance as a player. He was already MVP, the first German, and the best scorer in the league. The man from Cologne has already cracked the 100-point mark this season. Only in the playoffs has it not worked at all with the Oilers. The traditional team from Canada never made it past the second round.
“Leon is only 26 – if you haven’t won a Stanley Cup by then, that’s okay too. It would be worse if he was 33, 34 years old. The Leon will make its way. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in Edmonton or somewhere else,” says the 43-year-old storm. “There’s still plenty of time. He’s getting better and better too. I don’t think he’s reached the end of his potential yet. I hope it won’t be this year, but next year.”
The biggest challenge for the Kings in the maximum of seven games is not only to keep Draisaitl under control, but also his teammate Connor McDavid. “They have one, if not the two best players in the world on their team. It won’t be that easy,” says Sturm. McDavid is currently the top scorer in the league, Draisaitl is fourth. “But we’ve always played very solidly against the Edmonton Oilers and we know them very well. We have respect, especially for the two of them, but we’re not afraid.”
However, it is particularly important to avoid being outnumbered against the Oilers. That’s when Draisaitl and McDavid, who otherwise run in different attack lines, stand together on the ice. “It will be very, very important for us that we don’t allow ourselves any stupid penalties,” says Sturm. Draisaitl in particular would then be even more dangerous. “He’s just better in the head than almost all the other players,” explains Sturm. “We know what his strengths are. But even if we know that, he always manages to score a goal or provide an assist. That’s what makes him so special.”
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