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Was the quick evolution of Draisaitl from prospect to standout THE biggest on-ice element in this positive building project?

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It was a little more than three years ago when Wayne Gretzky predicted the Edmonton Oilers were on their way to big improvement in the National Hockey League.

And he did it in one simple sentence: “We’ll be a really good team when the big guy decides he wants to run his own line.”

Now it’s obvious that “the big guy” was, and is, Leon Draisaitl. Gretzky’s words came as a team-wide selection of alleged experts insisted the Oilers would reach their peak if then-coach Todd McLellan would leave Draisaitl and the remarkable Connor McDavid as allies on the same forward line long enough to allow some solid second- and third-line players to become consistently valuable.

The operative words in Gretzky’s sentence — “decides to” — became memorable only after Draisaitl matured enough to recognize his own potential. The specific turning point from bright prospect to budding superstar Is impossible to define precisely, but it certainly happened last season.

Until then, the German youngster remained only an intriguing prospect. He operated comfortably, and often effectively, with McDavid doing most of the work, getting almost all the attention and still scoring points at a ridiculous level

To state the obvious once again, Draisaitl’s status as scoring champion and likely winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player has erased any fear that he might fall short of the potential that showed in his junior career.

Now, he faces another step: showing his dominance — on his own line much of the time and in partnership with McDavid on Edmonton’s ominous power play. The Chicago Blackhawks are certain to see brilliance from their offensive co-leaders through at least three first-round playoff games, and perhaps as many as five games.

Since almost the moment, months ago,when commissioner Gary Bettman’s dream of completing a Stanley Cup playoff was first circulated, respect has grown for the Oilers as potential champions — this year, not next year.

Coach Dave Tippett and general manager Ken Holland have been extremely strategic in their public utterances: “sure we’re good, but we’re still growing,” is a shared outlook. Holland, in particular, has been cautious. His years of success as the operational head of the Detroit Red Wings showed him that depth and experience are essential to reach the top of any competitive ladder.

The season-long improvement of defender Ethan Bear and winger Kailer Yamamoto has done much to improve team depth, back and front. Evan Bouchard, Phil Broberg and Caleb Jones are all nearing regular play on a big-league blueline crew. Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, Ostap Safin show similar signs up front.

These future additions make it obvious the Oilers have potential as serious candidates, both short- and long-term.

Was the quick evolution of Draisaitl from prospect to standout THE biggest on-ice element in this positive building project? It’s hard to argue otherwise.

Coronavirus invasion of major league baseball was bound to happen sooner or later

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Alberta

Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

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DELIA, Alta. — It’s not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast was found in a field not far from where it was taken.

According to Jane McMullin, co-owner of Hand Hills Crafts in Delia, Alta., “Morgan the Mystical Unicorn” had stood, embedded in the ground with spikes, outside the business for two years and had become a bit of a tourist attraction.

But McMullin says a neighbour phoned her Friday on morning and told her that her unicorn “had run away.”

RCMP issued a news release Saturday saying the statue was found about 15 kilometres from the village, damaged, with its bronze-coloured horn broken off.

The release says police are still looking for suspects, and have called in their forensics experts to help.

McMullin says “friendly people” have transported Morgan back to Delia, but she says he’s got scratches and dents that will need to be repaired along with the horn.

“It was heartbreaking to see the damage,” she said. “He’s going to be down and out for a while.”

Investigators say that between 1:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on Friday, they believe a vehicle was driven to Delia where suspects loaded the statue in the box of a large utility truck.

The statue, which measures more than three-metres high and weighs more than 270 kilograms, is worth $10,000, police said.

McMullin said the unicorn statue was given to her and her partner as a gift and once stood in Iricana, Alta. Originally, she said, it came from Texas.

“He was a great landmark. People would say, ‘When you get to Delia, turn right at the unicorn,'” McMullin said.

“We’ve had hundreds of people stop to get pictures of him.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Unbeaten Brad Gushue into Champions Cup curling playoffs in Calgary

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CALGARY — Brad Gushue won a third game in a row Saturday to qualify for the playoffs in the Humpty’s Champions Cup Grand Slam curling event in Calgary.

Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., scored two points in the seventh end and stole one in the eighth for a 6-5 win over Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz, who won a bronze medal at the recent men’s world championship in the same arena.

Gushue tops the men’s Pool A at 3-0 in the five-day event at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.

Gushue was to face Scotland’s Bruce Mouat, the world championship silver medallist, later Saturday.

The Champions Cup is the first of two Grand Slams in Calgary featuring two dozen men’s and women’s domestic and international teams.

The Princess Auto Players’ Championship starts Tuesday. The combined prize purse of both bonspiels is $560,000. 

In other morning-draw games, Matt Dunstone edged Brad Jacobs 6-5 to put both teams at 1-2 in Pool A.

Russia’s Alina Kovaleva got to 2-1 in the women’s Pool A with a 9-7 victory over winless Briar Hurlimann of Switzerland.

Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa downed Tabitha Peterson of the Unites States 5-2 to put both at 1-2.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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