Before the start of the strenuous NHL main round, the Edmonton Oilers around their German star Leon Draisaitl don't need any motivational help. After two disappointing ends to the season, the team has learned from it.
"There's a reason we didn't get any further. There's a reason we didn't win. But we're definitely not far away," said the Cologne player before the start against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night in Germany. "We are ready to win. More importantly, we are ready to do whatever it takes to win," emphasized the 27-year-old. "There's not much missing. At least that's my feeling and I believe that from everyone else. I think the whole league feels that way about us."
The season begins on Tuesday evening American time with the three games of the Nashville Predators against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Chicago Blackhawks with German attacker Lukas Reichel against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Seattle Kraken with Rosenheim goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer against defending champion Vegas Golden Knights. The Oilers - just like Tim Stützle with the Ottawa Senators in their duel with the Carolina Hurricanes - are on the ice for the first time on the second day of the new season. As in the previous two years, they are once again among the absolute favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Both times, however, the playoffs ended before the final series - in each case after the series against the eventual champions. Two years ago it was the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference finals, and last season it was the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round. "I think we beat ourselves a bit in the series. I think there are few teams that are actually better than us," said Draisaitl on Monday. For the coming season he counts the Hurricanes, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the LA Kings and Vegas among the strongest teams. "There are many teams that have the potential to go very, very far. I would also like to put us in the group."
82 games until the playoffs
Taking part in the decisive games for the famous cup is the ultimate goal, but the 82 games on the way to the playoffs are no less important. “It’s a marathon,” explained Draisaitl’s congenial teammate Connor McDavid. Together the two form the most dangerous attacking duo in the league.
Especially in the competitive Pacific Division of the Western Conference, every point can more or less make the difference in the end as to who has one more home game in the tight playoff duels and can let their own fans whip them forward. The Golden Knights, Oilers, Kings and Kraken all scored at least 100 points in the main round last season. In no other division have four teams had this result. The Golden Knights showed how important home advantage can be on the way to their first title win with nine wins in twelve home games.
And Draisaitl believes that the games in the main round are important for something else: “You have to build up your game. You have to start well and then develop over the months and get better over the year.” The approach is to then play the best ice hockey in the most important phase of the season.
Draisaitl's goal: the Stanley Cup
Draisaitl recorded 52 goals and 76 assists last season, absolutely exceptional values in a league as strong as the NHL. Nevertheless, the football fan was often overshadowed by his colleague McDavid, who scored an incredible 153 points (64 goals and 89 assists). Nevertheless, Draisaitl has won all the important individual awards in his nine years in the NHL. In 2020, he became the first German to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's best scorer, as well as the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL's most valuable player.
If he could, he would trade all these honors for the one goal he has been working towards since the beginning of his career: the Stanley Cup. “As a team, we are in a phase of our career where it is no longer about individual awards, it is no longer about individual statistics,” he emphasized. "So I'm going to do what I have to do to be successful. The main goal is always to be competitive and be the last team standing. And that's what we're all playing for."