Leon Draisaitl: Germany's NHL history-maker and his explosive rise to the top 

Leon Draisaitl has set the NHL alight and achieved things no other German ice hockey player ever has, now he's got the Stanley Cup and an Olympic podium in sight.

By Ken Browne
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Leon Draisaitl isn't just Germany's greatest ever NHL player, he's one of the best ice hockey players on the planet right now.

That's what many Edmonton Oilers fans and hockey writers will tell you, and it's hard to argue with them.

In 2020 Draisaitl claimed the holy trinity of individual NHL awards: The Art Ross Trophy, The Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award - the Art Ross Trophy goes the highest point-scorer of the regular season, the other two are the players' and writers' MVP.

Winning all three in the same season puts his name in the conversation with hockey immortals like Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, and the Oilers' other superstar, Connor McDavid.

Draisaitl has started the 2021/22 Olympic season in ridiculous form too banking 18 goals and 17 assists in his first 17 games. 35 points already.

Draisaitl's rocket-fuelled rise to the top of the game reflects Germany's ice hockey journey over the last few years too, back home he's done for hockey what Dirk Nowitzki did for basketball.

21/22 could be Draisaitl's greatest season yet with an Olympic podium and a first Stanley Cup triumph on the line.

Draisaitl blazes trail to NHL: The beginning

Born in Cologne in 1995, a little Leon followed his father Peter Draisaitl onto the ice, Dad is a three-time Olympian from Calgary 1988, Albertsville '92, and Nagano '98.

Leon joined the youth ranks of the Kölner Haie where his father played in the 90s, moving to the Jungadler Mannheim development team in 2009 where he spent three seasons, helping them win the German Developmental League (DNL) in 2011-12.

With a talent too hard to hide he moved to North America in 2012 at 17 years of age with a hockey bag full of NHL dreams.

Two years later it was dream come true as he was brought in by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2014 NHL draft.

When you look back at Draisaitl's career it looks like the unstoppable rise of a future Hall-of-Famer, a birthright talent destined for greatness, but that isn't really the case.

His rookie year was a disappointment - he scored two goals in 37 games - and Edmonton sent him down to the junior Western Hockey League to learn.

Hard work, sacrifice, and self-belief brought him back to the big league the following year, and it’s been a stratospheric rise since then.

Germany’s first NHL megastar has contributed over 500 points to the team since then including two 100 point seasons in 19/20 and 20/21.

And the way he's started 21/22, this season could be his most memorable yet. Draisaitl has two clear objectives in the crosshairs this season, but he isn't the only one.

Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid: Stanley Cup/Olympic medal season?

Some will argue that Draisaitl isn't the best player in the world right now. Others that he isn't even the best player at the Edmonton Oilers.

That's because he plays with Connor McDavid, another hockey prodigy who has the same goals in sight this term: The Stanley Cup and the Olympic podium.

The Oiler's two superstars have started the Olympic season on fire and recent playoff disappointments might be forgotten if they lift the NHL's most coveted cup together at the end of the term.

Before that though, there'll be an NHL break for the Beijing Winter Games in February 2022.

And as if an Olympics with NHL players back wasn't exciting enough, Draisaitl and Edmonton teammate McDavid will face off against one another in their opening game in Beijing when reigning silver medallists Germany and Canada clash in Group A on Thursday, 10 February.

Leon Draisaitl and the golden age of German Ice Hockey

Draisaitl's explosive rise to the top of the game is the headline of a much deeper story for German ice hockey.

At the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics the Germans pulled off a major upset by defeating Canada in the semi-final and only lost by a single overtime goal (4-3) to Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) in the gold medal final.

It was Germany's greatest Olympic ice hockey result, a first medal since they won bronze at Innsbruck 1976, their only other medal, another bronze, coming all the way back in Lake Placid in 1932.

But Draisaitl and NHL players didn't take part in PyeongChang, this time around Germany can call on the talents of their star man along with NHL fixtures like experienced goalie Phillpp Grubauer, rising 20-year-old defenceman Moritz Seider, and Draisaitl's other Edmonton teammate Dominik Kahun (26).

When Draisaitl won the prestigious German 'Male Athlete of the Year' in 2020 it was official recognition of his place among the elites of German sports.

Former winners of the award include Boris Becker, Michael Schumacher, Robert Harting, and Dirk Nowitzki, who won it in 2011.

A curious coincidence in 2020 was Draisaitl, an ice hockey player, winning German Male Athlete of the Year, while Alphonso Davies, a soccer player for Bayern Munich won Canada's equivalent of the same award.

Two trailblazers breaking new ground in their respective sports and inspiring others.

Now Germany's ice hockey hero has a season ahead of him that could inspire a lot more if he can help take Germany back onto the podium in Beijing and lift the Stanley Cup.

"Of course, I'm proud of what I've achieved, very happy about winning the awards," Draisaitl told DW after all the individual gongs in 2020, but what he really wants in 2022 is Olympic and NHL glory.


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