Mon Sep 24 09:18pm EDT
It has been tough for small-market major junior clubs to load up at the Canadian Hockey League import draft. On several occasions, the top overseas young guns have refused to take their talents to less-wealthy, smaller cities.
Fortunately for the Prince Albert Raiders, that trend stopped for them at the 2012 import draft when German native Leon Draisaitl, who they selected with the No. 2 pick, agreed to join their club.
"I'm happy to be in Prince Albert," says Draisaitl, who seemed to be not fully aware of the struggles of small-market teams at the import draft. "I had no choice where I go. It was a draft and the Raiders picked me. They are a great organization and I'm happy to be in (the) WHL."
Draisaitl didn't sign with Prince Albert immediately after being drafted, though. He contemplated his other development options. But after Raiders general manger Bruno Campese flew to Germany to meet him and his family, he decided to ink a deal with the Raiders.
"I wasn't sure if I'd come here right away after seeing they drafted me," says Draisaitl. "I could have played for teams in Sweden and Finland. But then Bruno came and he talked with my family and me about the Raiders. Then I decided the CHL is the best option for me to get better."
The 6-foot-1, 198-pound forward barely has his feet wet in the Dub. Nevertheless, he has impressed thus far. He has looked sharp on the Raiders' top line alongside Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Mark McNeill and Anthony Bardaro, showcasing outstanding strength, hockey sense, and puck control. He scored two assists in his first two regular-season games, as well as notched two goals and six points throughout four pre-season games.
Draisaitl is regarded as one of the top prospects of the 2014 draft class born outside of North America. He has elicited several comparisons to current and former NHL stars, including The Great One.
"A lot of people want me to do very good," says Draisaitl. "But I'm not (Wayne) Gretzky or anyone like that. I'm just going to work hard and continue to grow."
The Gretzky comparison brings the term farfetched to a completely new level. However, the 16-year-old did post stats in German junior leagues that are Gretzky-like numbers. He scored 97 goals and 192 points in 29 games for Mannheimer under-16 in 2010-11, followed by netting 21 goals and 56 points in 35 games for Jungadler Mannheim under-18. Sure, the leagues he played in weren't on par with North America's best junior leagues. But still, he scored 248 freakin' points in just 64 games. That's impressive in a beer league, let alone the best junior leagues Germany has to offer.
Draisaitl didn't grow up dreaming of being the next Gretzky. He dreamed of making his country proud by representing Germany as a superstar in the National Hockey League.
"Germany doesn't have a lot of players in NHL," says Draisaitl. "I use to dream of becoming a star in the NHL. What kid doesn't dream of that? It would be great for Germany to have a superstar in NHL. It would be great for my country."
Growing up in Cologne, he idolized fellow countrymen Marco Sturm and Jochen Hecht, who are both long-time NHLers. To Draisaitl, they were more than just role models, they were hope that a kid from Germany could one day make it in The Show.
"It was great to see guys like Sturm and Hecht play in the NHL," Draisaitl says. "It was good to see that people from my country could go on to play in the NHL. It gave young kids hope that they could to (make it in the NHL).
It seems Draisaitl will receive a prime opportunity to represent his country at the upcoming under-20 world junior championship. The writing is on the wall for him to crack Germany's squad.
"I haven't been told I will be on the team for sure, but kind of," says Draisaitl. "The coach of Germany called me and talked to me about the tournament. I think it would be great to play in that tournament."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen