November 26, 2022

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NEW YORK — The points aren’t coming, he’s been injured, he’s made some glaring and costly deals, and there are already people wondering aloud if Dylan Holloway would be better off ramping up his ice age and confidence in the underage.

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In other words, things are pretty much on schedule.

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Ask Leon Draisaitl. He not only understands what Holloway is going through – he’s lived it.

A highly touted third draft pick, Draisaitl played 37 games for the Oilers in 2014-15 and scored just nine points, with a minus-17 rating suggesting he was on the wrong end of the road even with some premium turnover.

So the Oilers sent him back to the juniors for the second half of the season for a deep playoff run with the Kelowna Rockets. He was named Memorial Cup MVP and seemed poised to make his mark in the big leagues.

The following season? The Oilers cut him off in training camp and he started the year at Bakersfield, where he had two points in six games.

It was slow going.

But within a few years he grew into Leon Draisaitl, a 50-goal, 100-plus man who is widely regarded as one of the top three or four players in the league.

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“It’s a really, really tough league when you’re young,” said Draisaitl, who is now 27. “It’s a tough league to come in as a young man and make an impact right away. The game changes a lot from junior or college to the NHL. Some guys need an extra year, two extra years, sometimes longer.”

But Draisaitl has seen enough of Holloway to believe he’ll be everything the Oilers hoped for when they drafted the 6-foot-1, 203-pound winger 14th overall in 2020.

“I think there are many tools in his game that are very promising. Sometimes you just have to give a guy an extra year to carve out his league shoes a bit. He finds his way. I think he’s doing really well with what he’s given. He’s going to be a really good player for us,” said Draisaitl.

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What makes Holloway’s jump even more difficult is the fact that he missed nearly a year with a wrist injury that required two surgeries and then went on the record of a concussion three games into his NHL career.

“He’s been through a lot in recent years,” said Draisaitl. “Everyone sees what they can do and what they can do in terms of their skills and work ethic. I see it too. He’s going to be a really, really good NHL player. Sometimes you need a little patience.”

Whether that patience should consist of playing six to 10 minutes in the NHL, like he’s done most of this season with a few exceptions (15:15 vs. Carolina, 11:35 vs. Dallas), or more than 20 minutes too Playing and scoring points in Bakersfield is the constant question.

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“He has to play,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “But we’re also at a point in our year where margins are narrow and thin. So we have to make sure we’re doing what’s best for the Edmonton Oilers while also doing what’s best for Dylan Holloway.”

Woodcroft, who has already defeated Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto, knows that Draisaitl and Connor McDavid need all the offensive support they can get. He’d love for the kid to put together a string of productive nights, but those narrow margins he’s talking about, with the Oilers just over .500, dictate the Ice Age and the lines.

“We’re trying to find ways to plug some of those holes and raise people in the lineup and when Dylan plays really well he gets raised and if other people play well they get raised.”

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Holloway has only played 33 AHL games and 15 in the NHL in his career, so no one is telling him to hurry or wondering what’s going on. For now, the game up here is supposed to give him more time to see if it clicks.

“He’s in his senior year and he’s had a tough time with an injury,” Woodcroft said. “He’s figuring out what his skills are at that level. What he can do, what he can’t do, where pucks need to go and the importance of defending and being a positive player. He finds his way.

“I’ve seen some growth in a few areas. He’s someone we’re very optimistic about in the long term because he has a lot of prerequisites to be a very good hockey player.”

If you ask a young player where they’d rather be – roaming around in the NHL lifestyle or in the AHL – that’s not a contest. Still, Holloway admits that this league definitely takes some getting used to.

“It’s definitely a learning process,” says the 21-year-old. “There are things you can get away with in the AHL and NCAA that you can’t get away with in the NHL. It’s just things I learn. I feel like I’m making progress in every game and hopefully I’ll get a little more opportunity and try to create some offense with that.

Email: [email protected]

On Twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski

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