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Oilers, Canucks must make call on rookies

9/17/2014

Leon Draisaitl answers the Edmonton Oiler’s most pressing need. The question, however, is whether he’s going to fill it this season or next.

"Yes, the big question is center and how it all unfolds," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish told ESPN.com on Tuesday evening.

With the trade of Sam Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes, the Oilers have a gaping hole at the No. 2 center spot.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is set at No. 1, and Boyd Gordon will likely pivot the No. 3 line.

Will it be Mark Arcobello, Anton Lander or the 18-year-old Draisaitl for the No. 2 spot? Or somebody else?

That will have to play out in camp and preseason over the next few weeks.

Those who were at the rookie tournament in Penticton, British Columbia, certainly got a glimpse of what Draisaitl, the third overall pick in last June’s draft, can bring.

"I like him a lot," one rival NHL team executive who was in Penticton said. "He needs to get quicker in the 200-foot game, but his strength out of the corner and protecting the puck, and his ability to make a play, along with the big body, is going to be a good package down the road. He will get stronger and with that should come his quickness, as well. Good kid, too."

That’s the first thing MacTavish mentions about the 6-foot-1, 208-pound German prospect.

"I love the character," MacTavish said. "Sure, the size and the skill, but the character, as well. The fact that he committed to being here throughout the summer is going to give him every chance to make it. He’s a really driven guy, with the high skill level, that’s a pretty good combination.

"But it’s a league not all that friendly to youth. He’s going to have to prove that he’s capable of handling it. All signs point to him being given great opportunity. Having said all that, we’ll make the decision based on what’s best for Leon and not our organization need."

It’s refreshing to hear that from the Oilers' GM. I felt the previous Edmonton regime made a horrible mistake in keeping Nugent-Hopkins on the NHL roster as an 18-year-old in 2011. His hockey IQ was ready for the NHL, yes, but as far as I’m concerned, not his body. He was so skinny. He took a pounding.

Draisaitl is heavier than Nugent-Hopkins was at 18, so perhaps he can endure it better this season if he makes the Oilers.

Either way, sounds as though Oilers management is going to do well by him. He’ll make the team only if he’s truly ready.

CANUCKS’ KIDS

Speaking of prospects, the Vancouver Canucks also insist they’re in no rush to promote their top young talent.

Nicklas Jensen, 21, played 17 games with the Canucks late last season, while Bo Horvat, 19, was Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2013.

They’re going to be given every chance to make the team, but there are no guarantees.

"We’ve talked to them, we’ve let them know that if they earn a spot on the team, we’ll make changes to accommodate them," Canucks GM Jim Benning told ESPN.com earlier this month. "It’s going to be up to them. They’re going to have to come in and prove they’re ready to play. Having said that, we’ve got depth now. We don’t want to rush guys. If they’re not ready to make the jump, we want to develop them properly."

One has to believe, barring injury, that Radim Vrbata, Zack Kassian, Jannik Hansen and Derek Dorsett are likely locked in on the right side, so not sure what that leaves for Jensen at this point.

At center, you’ve got Henrik Sedin, Nick Bonino, Brad Richardson and probably Linden Vey. The latter, acquired from the Kings at the draft, requires waivers to get sent down, so unless he has the worst camp/preseason ever, have to think the Canucks want Vey to start the year on the NHL roster. Benning is high on Vey, which is why Vancouver traded for him.

So that doesn’t leave much room for Horvat, either.

But one never knows, that’s why there’s a camp and preseason, right?

HONEST BIEKSA

Sticking with the Canucks, I loved Kevin Bieksa’s answer last week during the Player Tour interviews when I asked him about whether there’s any benefit in playing in a Pacific Division with the likes of L.A., Anaheim and San Jose, in terms of getting the best out of your team in those games and raising the standard.

Bieksa responded with the honest truth.

"I think I would prefer to be in an easier division and cruise to the playoffs, I’m not going to lie," said Bieksa, whose Canucks used to rule the old Northwest Division for years. "They’re tough games. Yeah they’re great to use as a measuring stick when you’re playing those teams and seeing where you stand. But they’re tough games. They take a toll on you. If you’re asking me if I love my division, the answer would be probably be no."

Don’t change, Kevin.