With the Stanley Cup playoffs and the World Championship, May should have been the best part of the ice hockey season. The coronavirus has put the sport on hold during a very positive period for the game in Germany.
All four of the NHL players who took part in a Zoom call with German hockey writers on Monday stressed how much they miss playing the game since the league suspended play due to the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. And with the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship having been called off entirely this year, none of them will be going to Switzerland next weekend either.
Of the four, though, the player with the most to be disappointed about is arguably Leon Draisaitl (pictured, top), who at 24 has already emerged as one of the superstars in the world's top league. By the time the NHL was put on hold, the Cologne native had pulled away from his Edmonton Oiler teammate Connor McDavid in the scoring race, with 110 points compared to McDavid's 97. On 43 goals with 11 games left to play in the regular season, Draisaitl also looked to have a good shot to break the 50-goal mark for a second-straight year.
Obviously this makes him the favorite to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer. If and when this 2019-20 campaign is completed, he'll also have a good shot at winning the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player – something no other German player has previously come close to. Draisaitl would certainly take it, but with his Edmonton Oilers having failed to make the postseason in four of the last five seasons, he is focused on helping the team.
Seen here with the Colorado Avalanche, while still with the Washington Capitals in 2018, Phillpp Grubauer became just the fourth German to win the Stanley Cup
"Of course it would mean a lot to me (winning the Hart or Art Ross), no question. But in the last few years we haven't really had much success as a team, so for me it's more about winning games and reaching the playoffs," he said.
German hockey on the way up
However, it's not just Draisaitl who is on the right track, but German hockey in general. Not only did the national team come seconds away from winning gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, but more Germans are going high in the NHL entry draft. Last season, Detroit selected Moritz Seider sixth overall, and three highly rated Germans will be in the mix this year, with the Mannheim Eagles' Tim Stützle topping the NHL Central Scouting department's list of European skaters. John-Jason Peterka of Red Bull Munich comes in at No. 8 on the list of European prospects, while Lukas Reichel of the Berlin Polar Bears is 14th.
Dominik Kahun, who was undrafted but made the Chicago Blackhawks out of training camp in 2018, says the recent upturn in German hockey has not gone unnoticed in North America.
"Of course, with Leon (Draisaitl), the way he plays, he's a good advertisement for German ice hockey. Not only him, but all the Germans (in the NHL)," said Kahun, who was traded from Pittsburgh to Buffalo earlier this season. "Now the Germans are getting more and more attention. In the past there was not so much talk about German ice hockey. I think we are on a path."
It seems to be no coincidence that German ice hockey which had been in the doldrums, started moving in the right direction right after former national team player Franz Reindl took over as president of the German Ice Hockey Association (DEB) in 2014.
No magic formula
But, asked what was behind the recent improvement, Phillipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche said there was no single element that had made the difference.
"Franz (Reindl) brings in a lot of ideas to bear, but there is a whole team behind it. Stefan Scheidnagel (the DEB's sporting director) has also changed a lot in the last few years," Graubauer said. "But the development of the young players, including by the clubs is key. But I can't pick out one thing that has been done super well. Everybody involved have simply done their jobs really well."
Tobias Rieder of the Calgary Flames agreed that it's been a team effort, but he also pointed to an appointment Reindl made, shortly after he was elected DEB president almost six years ago.
"There are several people involved, but I think it also really helped when Marco Sturm took over as coach of the national team," he said. "Then we all knew that things were moving in the right direction."
The pinnacle of Sturm's tenure as national team coach was leading Germany to that silver medal at the Olympics – another thing that didn't go unnoticed in North America. Having played more than 1,000 games in the world's top league, Sturm is now the first German-born coach in the NHL, as an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings.