February 23, 2015
TORONTO– Prospect Brendan Leipsic has already been compared to certain NHL players without ever playing in the league.
That doesn’t work for him.
The 20-year-old rookie, who was acquired from Nashville in a trade for Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, has been likened to that of Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher and Boston’s Brad Marchand— in large part because of his pesky play and the fact he stands under six-feet tall. He was even listed by The Hockey News last fall as the “most annoying prospect” in junior. But if he had his choice he’d be recognized for his speed and skill instead of for playing over the edge as he’s been known for in the past.
“I’ve been compared to those guys ever since my draft year,” Leipsic told reporters when he first arrived in Toronto. “Those are great guys, but I just want to be my own player.”
Leipsic, five-foot-10 177 pounds, made an instant impact by finding the scoresheet in each of his first three games with the Marlies.
On Friday he scored his first goal for Toronto in a 5-2 loss to Utica, set up the only goal for the Marlies in a 3-1 loss to Texas Saturday and tacked on one more assist in Sunday’s 6-3 win over Charlotte.
Toronto coach Gord Dineen put Leipsic on the left-wing alongside centre Byron Froese and winger Josh Leivo, who was switched back to the right side, to start his tenure with the Marlies. He was also added onto the club’s second power-play unit. It was on the power play that the pesky side was most evident as he rarely left the front of the crease, trying to affect the opposing team’s goaltender as much as possible.
“That’s something he’s done in the past and had success with,” said Dineen. “Doesn’t matter what level of hockey, that area in front of the goal, that’s where the highest percentage of goals come from.”
The Marlies looked sluggish in their loss to Texas, as they were outplayed right from the get-go. It wasn’t until Toronto went 6-on-5 in the final minutes before it found the back of the net. Leipsic grabbed the puck at the side of the Stars net and as quickly as he had the puck, it was off his tape and on the stick of Brendan Mikkelson in the slot for an easy finish.
“He’s a smart hockey player and the one thing is he’s a very heads-up hockey player,” said Dineen. “Good vision on the ice, he makes those passes. Sometimes guys see their passes but don’t execute them, but he can execute them.
“The guys playing with him will benefit from him.”
The Winnipeg native also made a smart play in the second period when he read the Texas defence and caused a turnover on the forecheck that led to a scoring chance. While Toronto couldn’t capitalize, it was the first time it came close to beating Jussi Rynnas all game.
“People say I’m an annoying prospect. But I think I play the game the right way and I’ve come a long way from junior,” said Leipsic.
Leipsic was originally drafted by the Predators 89th overall in 2012 after spending his junior career with the Portland Winterhawks. In 2013 he led the Western Hockey League with 49 goals and 120 points in 68 games and made it to the league finals all four years he was with Portland. His favourite player growing up was Teemu Selanne, who he said he knows well through”family connections” from his time in Winnipeg.
He’s the first acquisition made by Toronto general manager Dave Nonis in an attempt to turn the franchise around through young pieces. With fellow prospects William Nylander and Connor Brown also with the Marlies, Leipsic is optimistic about the future.
“I’m excited, it’s an original-six team,” he said. “Young core, they’re trying to build, so I’m excited to be part of it.”
Including his time spent with the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate, Leipsic has produced eight goals and 38 points in 50 games. That puts him fourth in rookie scoring right behind Brown, who has 15 goals and 41 points in 52 contests.