It didn’t take long for the Leon Draisaitl trade to pay dividends for the Kelowna Rockets.
The highly-regarded property of the Edmonton Oilers’ came as advertised, leading the Rockets to a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants in WHL action Wednesday night at Prospera Place.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Draisaitl, who the Rockets acquired on Tuesday from the Prince Albert Raiders, scored a goal and added an assist in his Kelowna debut. He was named the game’s first star on a night where the Rockets didn’t bring their best game, as they were outshot 41-33.
The German-born forward who, at times, looked like a men among boys against the Giants, was happy with the end result of his first game in a Rockets’ uniform.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Draisaitl. “Of course winning is always a lot of fun, it’s one of the reasons I’m here, because this team wins and I want to win hockey games.
“As a team there was a couple of areas we weren’t too sharp,” he added. “We gave up a lot of chances and it’s something we have to do better next time.”
Draisaitl assisted on the Rockets first goal of the night, a power play marker by Tyson Baillie—his 27th goal of the season—at 8:36 of the opening period.
At the five-minute mark of the second period, on a partial break down the right wing, Draisaitl snapped a shot past Giants’ netminder Cody Porter for his first goal as a Rocket and the eventual game winner.
Widely considered as one of the top 19-year-old players in the world, Draisaitl supplied the Rockets with pretty much what head coach Dan Lambert had hoped for.
“I thought Leon was really good,” Lambert said. “You can tell he’s a dynamic player and a game-changer and I thought he was extremely good.”
Draisaitl—a first-round, third overall NHL draft pick of the Oilers in 2014—spent the first half of the season with Edmonton where he had two goals and nine points in 37 games.
Draisaitl admits being back in the junior ranks with a new team is an adjustment, but given time he expects chemistry to develop with his new teammates.
“The first game is always really hard,” he said. “I had one practise, it’s hard to get to know each other, it takes a little while…but I think once we get going and get a couple of practises in, I think it should be good.”
On Saturday night, when the Medicine Hat Tigers visit Prospera Place, Draisaitl will be re-united with Canada’s world junior all-star defenceman Josh Morrissey, who the Rockets acquired in mid-December.
The two played together for two seasons in Prince Albert.
“It’s really exciting,” Draisaitl said of Morrissey’s anticipated arrival. “I played with him the last few years, he’s still one of my best friends and it’s great that I’m back together with him.”
Captain Madison Bowey will also return to the Rockets lineup Saturday after winning gold with Morrissey at the world junior championship Monday in Toronto.
The WHL’s top team, the Rockets (32-6-3) are back in action Friday when they visit the Kamloops Blazers.