Nothing special jumps out at you watching Josh Leivo. He doesn’t blow by you with blistering speed or dazzle in one-on-one situations. He doesn’t have a 100 mile-per-hour slap shot and isn’t going to flatten people with huge hits.
What does jump out is improved scoring capacity, a singular aspect exhibited from his pre-Ontario Hockey League days that he’s adapted to his maturing overall game.
Year over year from his draft year in 2011, he scored 19 more goals and on a similar pace this season, without OHL scoring leader Michael Sgarbossa.
I should preface this by saying I haven’t seen Leivo live yet this season. Everything has been through video, television.
In 2011-12, Leivo scored 10 goals by his 26th game, scoring 22 in the final 40 games. Below is a breakdown of his weekly scoring starting October 11, 2011 through to the end of the season. (Here is a league wide look at the year over year change).
He went over a point per game at the end of January and never dipped below again. To illustrate a correlation, Michael Sgarbossa is shown below. Notice the period in December of stagnation leading up to Christmas before they both take off and both see their OHL rank improving.
There’s no more Sgarbossa as he’s graduated to the Lake Erie Monsters, but the 6-foot-200 pound has 10 goals in 16 games, 10th overall in the league.
Leivo’s scoring prowess stems from a quick release, a propensity to get into scoring areas and the puck is on and off the blade lightning quick. He has excellent stick preparation with blade on the ice ready to receive a pass and fire off shots in a compact release.
He quickly identifies holes and lanes and gets into soft spots and planting in the slot and net area without the puck, his stick at the ready. A quick and effortless skater, taking only a few strides to get up to a decent top speed. He has quick feet with smooth crossovers and change of pace. He’s also physical and will engage. And yes, he fights.
There’s some periodic dangle at the end of Leivo’s blade, and he’s bold enough to attempt these plays in risky areas. Using varying speeds while attacking makes him less predictable while individualism creeps in with the puck and he over handles it instead of passing it off to a teammate – the anti-Biggs in that regard.
Is likely to coast on momentum when initiating one-on-one moves before injecting small bursts of speed to get around defensemen. Pros will key in on that and limit his space, but he could open lanes by drawing defensemen and then exploiting his quick release.
While he has soft hands, they’re not overly quick or shifty, lacking those mesmerizing individual puck skills, but with Leivo it’s more about his shot and quick release than speed and high-end skill.
He needs to work on his static feet away from the puck, and disconnection from the play at times. Consistent intensity could improve as well, even shift to shift. He wants the puck, to be a difference-maker offensively, yet will slip into the background away from the play when not fully motivated.
Then there’s the character angle. I’ve never spoken to the Wolves winger and couldn’t attest to what Brian Burke describes as ‘character’.
"We don’t always get it right but our big focus is on character," Burke said. "Every team says that, but it’s part of our DNA. We’re looking for players that are going to get better, that work hard, that are coachable, guys who handle adversity well. We try to identify through our interview and through using our psychologist people with character.
"That’s why I think we got kind of a shotgun spread on positions and types of players this year, but I think we found character people. They’re your best chance to win. I’m convinced you can not win a championship in this league unless you have character people in the room.”
It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly what will make Leivo a viable NHL player, despite the emerging goal scoring ability at the OHL level. It’s not just one exciting feature about him, but rather the entire package, the quickness, the release, the responsible defense (when he’s actively involved in the play).
The translatable skills are enhanced with some scoring ability, as even a good third line player has to have the ability to contribute timely scoring. Even if Leivo tops out as a decent third line player with some individual skills, that’s a fairly decent return on a third round pick that wasn’t even ranked by NHL Central Scouting
McKeen’s had him ranked 96th overall in 2011.
Honored as a Player of the Week, there’s this montage of goals where there’s a display of the quick release, and a high skilled play to maneuver around a Frontenacs defender before scoring on the broken down play.
There’s also a great piece of isolation video courtesy a fan at a Kingston game. Watch Leivo’s feet.