October 20, 2014
TORONTO — If Josh Leivo plans to wear a Leaf sweater on a regular basis he will have to show up every night with the Marlies first.
The 21-year-old is in his sophomore season with the AHL club and, despite a 20-goal 40-point season already under his belt, Toronto management wants to see him be an impact player every game — not just occasionally.
“Consistency,” said Marlies coach Gord Dineen when asked what Leivo has to do to take the next step in his career. “He’s tended to be a streaky player in the past. It’s not only in games but practice. Now it’s stepping up his game to a level where he’s a top player on the ice every night, not just offensively but being hard on the puck both ways and making sure his structure is there with the rest of the team.
“He’s got to evolve.”
The Innisfil, Ont. native had a respectable rookie campaign with the Marlies last season that earned him two call-ups in October. But it also included a 12-game pointless streak mid-season and two healthy scratches despite being relied on as a top-six forward. Former Marlies coach, and current Leafs assistant coach, Steve Spott mentioned after one of his benchings that his work ethic off the ice needed to improve if he wanted to find success on the ice.
Despite this season being only five games in, Dineen has already seen a positive change from the converted left-winger.
“There’s a maturity level that’s stepped in there,” said Dineen. I think he took it to heart in his meeting at the end of the year that he’s making his living now and while it’s still a game the commitment level has to be at the level that he’s not just going to get by on talent alone. I see him carrying himself with a lot more professionalism and that’s going to bode well for him.”
Leivo, six-foot-two 195 pounds, was given an extra long look at Leaf training camp this year before a bruised foot limited his ability to dress in exhibition games. He spent the majority of his time playing the right wing, however he spent much of last season on the left side and he’s back there again to start this season with the Marlies.
“That was something (Steve Spott) last year introduced to him,” Dineen said about converting Leivo into a left-winger. “At the time the Leafs were very well stalked on the right so we wanted to give him the option of playing on the left. I think it helps his development.”
“Same responsibilities, just in the defensive zone the rims and stuff when you’re on the left wing it’s a little harder to take the puck on your backhand but I don’t struggle with that too often. Wherever they need me I’ll play that position,” said Leivo.
In five games this year Leivo has one goal and two assists playing the left wing in a top-six role and on the power play. He currently leads the team with 16 shots on net, but more importantly was relied on in overtime on Friday against the Hamilton Bulldogs when the team found itself hemmed in its own end for a full two minutes. After holding his own defensively, Toronto went on to win the game 3-2.
“When (management) is watching from up in the box and they see him playing that type of game they can say, ‘boy he’s a responsible player, he can come up and play for our team.'”
On Sunday the Leafs placed right-winger Brandon Kozun on injured reserve as he will be out of action for up to six weeks with a high ankle sprain. While it’s unclear who, or if, the big club plans to recall any players, Leivo plans to be ready if it’s his turn to make the jump.
“Throughout training camp I thought I played real well, hopefully I keep playing my game and get the call,” said Leivo.