When it became obvious that the Leafs were getting ready for a fire sale last winter, everybody knew what they wanted back – picks, picks, and more picks. After all, great teams tend to utilize the draft to pick the members of their future core, and thanks to their age, allow for a lot of well-thought out planning to get them where they need to go.
So, naturally, when the Leafs traded Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators, most of the focus went to the first round draft pick they acquired. But also included in the deal was Brendan Leipsic, a player who was already exceeding expectations before joining the organization and looks poised to continue to do so.
Leipsic is going to be forever attached to a piece from the hockey news that described him as “the most annoying prospect in hockey”, and in a lot of respects, that’s fair. Much like long-time comparables Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher, Leipsic is an undersized forward with a chip on his shoulder.
The fact that he’s 5’10 after stretching in the morning doesn’t change his desire to crash the net, throw his body, chirp his opponents, and cause as much commotion as he can to shift the momentum of the game in his team’s favour. That’s merely a neat bottom-six skillset if left at that, but Leipsic also adds a strong first step, excellent agility, and a hunger to score goals.
The Nashville Predators originally saw these qualities in him, and despite his stature, picked him in the third round of the 2012 entry draft. He began paying dividends immediately; his draft+1 year saw him team up with Nic Petan and Ty Rattie to make an absolute mockery out of the Western Hockey League, with Leipsic picking up 49 and 71 assists in 68 games. He followed it up with a shortened draft+2 on a weaker roster but still closed off strong with 33 points in 20 playoff games.
With nothing left to prove in junior, Leipsic began his professional career with the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate. The team wasn’t particularly fantastic at putting pucks in the net – team scoring leader Viktor Arvidsson had just 55 points, but in the 47 games before the trade, Leipsic managed 7 goals and 28 assists, putting him near the top of the team, into the rookie scoring race, into the AHL All Star Game. Shortly after, the trade happened.
In a way, joining the Marlies had its pros and cons for him, at least as far as putting up points went. The team, no longer struggling the way it was to begin the year, was full of talent to support him, but also full of talent to get in his way. Nevertheless, Leipsic picked up an additional 19 points in the last 27 games of the season – including six in his first six and a Hat Trick in early April. Leipsic’s 0.72 points per game were enough to put him top five amongst rookies league-wide (William Nylander and Connor Brown being first and second) – and ahead of the previously mentioned Gallagher at the same age.
The Road Ahead
There’s still a lot of room for Leipsic to grow, and it’s very exciting. Leipsic will be competing with Josh Leivo for the #1 spot on Left Wing this year, which potentially puts him on a line with William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen. Having more time to adjust to his teammates and play with arguably the two best teenagers in the league will lead to big things for him in the immediate; 65+ points are not out of the question for him.
Where he goes from there is the question. Do the Leafs see him as a top-sixer, or a third line super-pest with scoring touch? The organization seems to be allowing all of their prospects to write their own story books, so it’ll be interesting to see what Leipsic does with his.