Oh baby. You knew there was going to be some Josh Leivo talk coming pretty much as soon as camp opened. The fact that Leivo is playing with Kadri and Brown is only going to add the excitement that Leivo will finally be freed from the press box and see some time on the ice for the Leafs in an actual game.
The Story on Leivo
Okay. So a long time ago, way back in 2011, the Leafs did a remarkable thing and drafted a skilled player with some offensive upside in the 3rd round of the draft. He was a bit of a gamble, because all Sudbury Wolves seem to be gambles, but he closed out his OHL career averaging over a point per game in his last two junior hockey seasons.
Following junior, Leivo quickly adapted to the AHL are became a consistent contributor in the top six forward group. In a time when the Leafs didn’t have a lot going on in the way of offensive prospects, there was always some hope around Leivo.
That brings us to 2015-16, pretty much when you would have expected Leivo to be ready to graduate to the Leafs. He played 12 games in the NHL, and scored 5 goals. That’s pretty much enough to get us all a little excited for the next season. When next season came, Leivo found himself with the Leafs out of the necessity of requiring waivers, but he found himself sitting in the press box for the majority of the season, getting into 13 games.
It’s certainly worth noting that in those 13 games, Leivo produced 10 points. A rate that again excites fans, despite the fact most of us acknowledge the small sample size, but it’s definitely something that warrants seeing more. In 2017-18 we got a bit more Leivo, 3 more games. In his 16 games, Leivo say his numbers decline to 4 points in 16 games, and a lot of the excitement has been reduced to indifference, and calls to play him have in many cases been replaced with appeals to authority, that Babcock knows best.
While Babcock very well could know best, the fact that Leivo has apparently requested a trade, and the fact that at the start of the season Leivo is 25 and has spent the past two seasons as a full time NHLer with only 29 games to his name for it is a lingering issue that no one wants to see continue. As much as we want to celebrate organization depth, it’s very much “shit or get off the pot” time for the Leafs and Leivo. If the team isn’t going to play him, it’s cruel to not allow him an opportunity elsewhere at this point. Hopefully in the Western Conference.
Those are numbers we’re all getting a little hung up on. Well, those are his 5 on 5 numbers, since his first couple of tryouts also saw him play on the second power play unit to some success. A role that he’d still be strong candidate for. Anyway, what is interesting is that Leivo’s points per 60 last season were better than what he put up in 2015-16 when the initial excitement around Leivo took hold, he just saw a decline in linemates, often seeing fourth line minutes with Matt Martin and Dominic Moore, instead of getting the opportunity to ride shotgun next to Kadri like he has in previous seasons.
Last season’s unfortunate tethering to the fourth line may need to be overlooked a little, but at the same time, Leivo is still in a situation where he needs to push past the incumbents of the current roles. I’d argue that he definitely should have knocked Martin out of his established spot before Johnsson eventually did that, and that Komarov should have found his way out of the lineup as well, but Leivo hasn’t been a hill worth dying on, but curiosity about his potential still lingers.
|WITH||POSITION||TOI WITH||TOI AWAY||CF% WITH||LEIVO CF% WITHOUT||CF% WITHOUT LEIVO|
Now with Kadri on the other hand…
|With Kadri||TOI With||TOI Away||CF||CA||CF% With||Leivo CF% Without||CF% Without Leivo|
Well, I guess the recent history leads something to be desired, but it’s still somewhat comforting to see the band getting back together for training camp, at least. Leivo playing with good players has been good for Leivo, and good for the other players too, as he’s a capable offensive asset. With Kadri losing Marleau as his offensively inclined linemate, Leivo can hopefully offset that lose a little.
What’s also kind of interesting is that Leivo is playing with another player he had some past success with, in Connor Brown…
|With Brown||TOI With||TOI Away||CF||CA||CF% With||Leivo CF% Without||CF% Without Leivo|
So if training camp is any indication (it’s often not), this is a line that has some potential do well, at least for showcasing what Leivo is capable of.
Best Case Scenario for Leivo?
Leivo really clicks with Kadri, and he goes on to have a fruitful career as a sidekick to the best third line center in hockey. Just getting a chance to play seems like a huge win for Leivo, and the fact that he’s been around the team for the past two seasons should at least give him some veteran consideration even if his game totals don’t reflect it. Whether Babcock is a fan of Leivo or not, he has to realize that with van Riemsdyk leaving they need to replace his offense on the wing, and while everyone and their dog will point to Andreas Johnsson as the candidate to do so, it’s going to be more of a by committee approach, and Leivo could very well be part of that committee unless Tyler Ennis has something to say about it.
Worst Case Scenario
Yeah, you know what is. It’s Josh Leivo finding himself in 13th forward purgatory again. And not only that, but the one he’s lived for the past two seasons where the team wants to look at Marlies players ahead of putting him in the lineup. Kapanen, Johnsson, and Ennis all have strong cases for being ahead of Leivo on the depth chart already, and Grundstrom, Bracco, and Moore could very well be ready to leap past Leivo this year if he can’t find a way to endear himself to Mike Babcock.
At the same time, if Leivo were to be waived, it has to be pretty close to a 100% chance that someone around the league is curious enough to see what he can do. Even if it’s lingering curiosity from a couple of seasons ago, Josh Leivo could very quickly become an Oiler and go on to achieve great things on Connor McDavid’s wing.
Well, if this future star thing is going to happen, it’s probably going to be on another team. Admittedly, I think it is possible with the Leafs, and if Marleau isn’t an ideal winger for Matthews or Hyman and Tavares don’t click together, Leivo is someone that could benefit from a nice complimentary role. I’m not sure if you can say that Conor Sheary is a star, but Leivo has that Conor Sheary potential.
What’s Likely to Happen
Kyle Dubas isn’t Lou Lamoriello. Looking at the Islanders off-season, I think we can all agree that’s probably a good thing. That probably also means that Dubas less hardnosed about certain things and will give his players a chance to find a job somewhere else if they aren’t a fit with the Leafs. It doesn’t look like Leivo is a fit with Babcock. It’s too bad because Leivo seems like he’s good, but it’s time to revisit that Peter Holland trade. If you don’t want to just lose Leivo on waivers, perhaps you can deal him a pick conditional on the number of games he plays in the NHL this season.
It’s a hard climb for Leivo, even if it does seem like he’s getting his chance. Babcock sounds ready to make Par Lindholm his son, Tyler Ennis will benefit from veteran status, and at this point it seems like Kapanen and Johnsson are roster locks. That puts Leivo in the 13th forward spot, and Trevor Moore and Josh Jooris could easily take that job too.
Long and short of it. Leivo will probably play in the NHL this season, but I don’t think it will be for the Leafs.
If this wasn’t enough Leivo for you, here’s some more.