You may have to be a hockey fan to understand how big a star Leon Draisaitl has just become in what’s not considered a typically German sport.
The NHL, more than almost any other league, has this slightly weird tradition of handing out individual awards with names that don’t immediately reveal what the prize is all about. You can only understand their significance if you take the time to learn a bit about the history of the game and its quirks.
On Monday night, Draisaitl completed the supreme hat trick of Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award.
Can there really be any question that, despite the fact that his Edmonton Oilers yet again failed to live up to expectations in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Draisaitl has been the world’s best hockey player over a weird and often troubled past 12 months? Not based on the silverware he’s walked away with.
The Art Ross speaks for itself – most points scored in the regular season. The Hart Memorial Trophy recognizes the “player judged most valuable to his team” as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. The Ted Lindsay Award goes to the player regarded as the most outstanding over the past months – by his fellow players.
Now go back and look at some of the names that have graced the Art Ross Trophy alone; Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, and of course Draisaitl’s teammate in Edmonton, Connor McDavid. These are just a few, but they demonstrate what esteemed company Draisaitl has entered.
It hasn’t always been a straight path to success for the son of former German national team forward Peter Draisaitl and a product of the Cologne Sharks and Adler Mannheim youth programs.
In 2014, Draisaitl was picked third overall, the highest-ever German choice in the history of the NHL entry draft. But he wasn’t an instant star in his rookie year in Edmonton and wound up being sent down to the junior Western Hockey League for more seasoning. When he returned to the big club the following campaign, he was there to stay, and ever since, his development has been on a rapid upward curve. With his hard work and dedication to success, there is every reason to believe that the sky is the limit for Germany’s first NHL superstar.
But a couple of other flights of fancy occur to this native of Canada who calls Germany home: It seems a bit of an odd role reversal that as Draisaitl has been shining in The Great White North, a son of Edmonton, Alphonso Davies, has been making his mark in Munich. Now Canadians who never before had really followed the Bundesliga or even “soccer” for that matter, are tuning in.
Leading the way
In Canadian basketball, you often hear talk of the “Carter Effect.“ It refers to the arrival of the first big star at the Toronto Raptors, Vince Carter in 1998. It’s thought that he inspired a generation of youth who, two decades later, have started to put Canada on the world basketball map, most notably by producing two consecutive first-overall NBA draft choices in Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014).
Even before Leon Draisaitl won the Art Ross, the Hart and the Lindsay, at least one German player (Tim Stützle) had been projected to go in the top 3 of the NHL entry draft on October 6. So maybe German hockey was already on the right path to begin with.
Still such homegrown star power in the sport can’t hurt. And if you have any doubt about what sort of company he has elevated himself into, consider this; all but three of the 56 previous winners of the NHL’s award for most valuable player to his team (Hart) have gone on to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the highest honor an NHL player can receive.
That’s an honor, if it comes, for a much later date. And while you don’t have to win the Stanley Cup to get there, the culture of hockey players means that there are always, fairly or not, question marks about the greats of the game who never do. Still just 24, Leon Draisatil knows that. So despite his NHL trophy hat trick, he still has a bit of unfinished business to take care of.
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