November 12, 2015
TORONTO – Prospect Josh Leivo has added a different element to the Marlies’ top line, and the switch is paying off.
Coach Sheldon Keefe rolls four lines with his highly-skilled Toronto club and Leivo has seen time on each of them.
Recently, however, the 22-year-old forward has been consistently playing on the first line with centre William Nylander and winger Richard Panik and the trio have been lighting up their opponents – in large part to the work Leivo does in the offensive zone.
“The expectation (for Leivo) is to be really strong in the offensive zone with the puck, he’s as good a player we have below the goal line and protecting pucks, staying on offence,” said Keefe.
“With that line the more we can keep it on offence the stronger it will be. He’s really good at finding openings, at the same time he’s shown he can be good in our zone breaking out and making plays.”
Leivo, Nylander and Panik were put together in late October and the Marlies are 5-0-0 with the three sharing ice time.
Chemistry was instant, with the line combining for three goals and seven assists in a 6-1 win against Grand Rapids on Oct. 30.
“We could have had some more goals actually,” said Nylander, who had a pair of goals in the win.
Since their victory over the Griffins, Leivo’s ability to win puck battles has led to goals for his linemates against Hartford, Utica and Binghamton.
In five games together, Nylander has four goals and eight points, Panik has a two goals and five assists and Leivo has scored once and set up five more.
“I work hard, compete every day,” said Leivo. “My line has been playing well, especially.
“I got two great linemates, I get the puck or they find me. “We’re keeping it simple and it’s been working.”
Leivo, who was drafted 86th overall in 2011 by Toronto’s old management team, is only in his third season but is considered a veteran on such a young squad.
He entered the year with added pressure from new management, which is hoping to figure out how he fits into the club’s future, and there is less patience from within for him to succeed compared to some of the newer, younger, prospects in the system – making this season all that more important for the Innisfil, Ont. native.
Leivo, six-foot-two, 195 pounds, scored 23 goals in his rookie season before dropping off to 11 last year, despite creating a similar amount of shots on net. Injuries were a major issue in his sophomore season.
It’s not his ability to produce, though, that Keefe says makes or breaks his future with the Maple Leafs.
“We want him to continue to work at his skating, that’s a real separator right now in terms of AHL versus NHL,” said Keefe.
Currently Leivo has three goals and 10 points in 11 games.
With management wanting to stay patient with certain prospects, it’s almost certain Leivo will be one of the few to be given a look with the big club at some point this season.
A call-up could come even sooner than originaly expected, too, with the backing of his coach.
“Most games we’ve played I’ve come away pretty happy with Josh’s performance,” said Keefe.