He’s a little over six feet tall. He’s pretty imposing as he streaks down the left wing. There’s a heavy shot that could come off that right handed stick. He’s a good canadian boy, with a jersey number in the teens, and he wears the blue and white with pride. He joined the Leafs organization in 2011, and as time moves forward, this brown hair, blue eyed, slightly tan man just gets more and more popular.
Despite the mutual initials, Josh Leivo isn’t Joffrey Lupul. But can he be?
Leivo has steadily climbed up our ranks over the past year, moving to the third spot after a midterm ranking of fifth, and opening last year in seventh. But why the big leap? Professional experience has a lot to do with that, as he only had 7 AHL regular season and playoff games under his belt at this point, all in limited roles.
Last year was his rookie year, and despite starting the season at 20 years old, he impressed. Leivo lead all Marlies forwards in goals, scoring 23 in 59 games, trailing only TJ Brennan in total goals and only trailing Jerry D’Amigo in goals per game (minimum 1/3 of the season played; Carter Ashton and Trevor Smith otherwise were ahead of both). In the playoffs, Leivo finished eighth on the team in points, with eight in twelve games.
To put his regular season production into context, the Marlies had seven players start the season at 20 years old. Five were skaters, one of them being Leivo. The other four (Stuart Percy, Tyler Biggs, Zach Yuen, and David Broll), combined for 50 points in 184 games played. Leivo had eight fewer points, but also did so in 125 fewer games.
Leivo credited an early season call up to the Leafs (where he scored his first NHL goal an added an assist) as a huge boost for himself. “I think I took in a lot this season. Starting in the NHL was a big help.Those guys showed me a lot up there, which I kind of brought down here. It helped me out with my confidence.”
The Lupul comparison isn’t just one that I’m making, either. As Kyle Cicerella reported in March, Steve Spott has made that connection and has actively pushed it.
“(Lupul’s) a guy we’d like to mirror him after,” said Spott. “When you look at a Joffrey Lupul- big, strong, can play left wing or right wing, Josh has to watch and maybe mirror a Joffrey Lupul where he uses his size to his advantage and has a great shot and great puck possession.”
“(Josh) has tremendous puck protection, good hands and he possesses a good shot,” said Spott. For Josh, it’s consistency every day, being a pro on and off the ice. This is just a part of the maturation process.”
“I’ve watched (Lupul) a lot during the games and I’d love to play like him, he’s a great player,” said Leivo. “If that’s what Spotter sees, that’s a good thing. I kind of watch him when he’s skating out there and I kind of learn, see what he’s doing…I just think I need to get a little bit better defensively. I think I’ll be good.”
Leivo spent the bulk of the year playing with Greg McKegg as his centreman, and depending on what happens with William Nylander, it wouldn’t be super surprising to see the two together again. The thing that concerns me about the two of them, to an extent, was their high shooting percentages, with both shooting at a little over 16%. In McKegg’s case, it makes sense for his to be a bit high – he doesn’t shoot much and when he does, they’re high percentage chances (Tyler Bozak comes to mind here). But Leivo was firing from all sorts of areas and was one of the most consistent volume shooters on the team – you wonder if he’s that good of a sniper, or if he’s due for a bit of a drop.
For Leivo to have NHL success, he needs to round himself out more as a player, something he made a concious effort to do last year. “(My biggest improvement this year was) probably my defensive play. Spotter harped on me for that. I took it in, and every practice I’d try to figure out new ways of playing defensive hockey instead of trying to cheat for the offensive zone.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him moving forward. The NHL seems to be a given for him; it’s just a matter of when, and how much damage he can do once he gets there.
Photo Courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com