Thursday, January 8, 2015

Draisaitl delightful in Rockets debut

Shoot the Breeze Photography
  • Leon Draisaitl didn't disappoint in his Kelowna Rockets debut. World class players defy the odds and rise above to accomplish special things. The 19 year-old Edmonton Oilers first round draft choice is a special player. He proved it Wednesday night in a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Giants. With only one practice under his belt. With new line-mates, in a new rink in a new city, Draisaitl scored the game winning goal in the Rockets 32nd win of the season. The goal was the game winner. He also added a power play assist. Oh, did I mentioned he was named the first star at games end? Draisaitl said after that he didn't play that well. All I can say to that is 'unsinn reden'. What? That is German for nonsense. If you take into account Draisaitl was informed just a few days ago that he was being sent back to junior hockey from the best league in the world, the mental letdown alone would have crippled even a seasoned veteran. Not Draisaitl. Playing on a line with Tyson Baillie and rookie Dillon Dube, the lanky forward created numerous scoring chances for both and showed that he is worthy of all the hype. If he can play better, I take him for his word, but his debut was as scintillating as his second period wrist shot that beat Giants goaltender Cody Porter.
  • Visually, Draisaitl looks like a pro. He plays like a pro. My guess is he learned a lot in his short stay with the Oilers. It wasn't a waste of time despite what many fans want to believe. Great players study and learn from others and glean whatever they can from every trial and every triumph. What stood out in his performance? The centreman took short shifts. He showed commitment in his own zone and didn't look lazy in the pursuit of the puck when it wasn't on his stick. It was a good sign when he took the opening face-off and cleanly won it. Draisaitl was here to make an impact. He delivered. At games end he garnered just over 18 minutes of ice time.
  • While the night belonged to Leon, Jackson Whistle was no slouch either. Named the games second star, the veteran goalie made several sensational saves including 17 in the final period. The 19 year-old was sharp on a second period left pad save with the Rockets ahead 3-1 and made several solid stops in the third period when Porter was pulled for the extra attacker and the home team was clinging to a one goal lead. 
  • The line of Draisaitl, Baillie and Dube created far more chances than the line of Nick Merkley, Tyrell Goulbourne and Rourke Chartier. The best scoring chance for those three came in the third period when Goulbourne had Porter dead to his rights with the puck on his forehand only to see the rookie goaltender dive across and make a paddle save against the 20 year-old forward. 
  • Chartier would score his league leading 36th goal of the season into an empty net. With five more seconds on the clock, Draisaitl could have had his second of the game too. Draisaitl fired the puck towards the open net but time expired before it crossed the goal line.    
  • The Giants attempted to have big defenceman Mason Geertsen on the ice every time Draisaitl was out there. At 6'4 and 212 pounds, the Colorado Avalanche draft pick had a mostly successful night ending the game with a even plus/minus rating.  
  • The best hit of the game came from Giants defenceman Josh Thrower who sent Goulbourne flying with a clean check in the second period. Goulbourne had the puck on his stick when Thrower lined him up. Riley Stadel came to Goulbourne's aid and fought Thrower in a heated scrap.  
  • The Rockets are now 4-0-0-0 against the Giants in the seasonal series but will be no pushover with three of the final four games at Pacific Coliseum. 
  • I really liked Cody Porter in goal for the G-Men. A former West Kelowna Warrior, Porter made several solid stops. While not as busy as Whistle, Porter could have easily been named a star in the game after allowing only three goals against.    
  • Sixteen year-old Giants rookie Tyler Benson had a good showing. While he came away empty handed on the score-sheet, Benson created some good scoring chances and was robbed by Whistle with a nice glove hand save in the second period.
  • The Rockets are in Kamloops Friday and then finally all hands are on deck Saturday when the WHL leaders welcome the Medicine Hat Tigers with Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey back in the line up after their stint at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

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