The Toronto Maple Leafs finally began to steer their ship in the right direction on Sunday by sending Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for a 2015 1st rounder, Olli Jokinen, and prospect Brendan Leipsic. The return on the deal signals the start of the rebuild that the team has been in need of for some time now. An added bonus to the transaction is that it also shaves 2.3 million off player’s salaries, which could help with signing Morgan Rielly next summer, or help the team retain some contract on players possibly moving out (Yes I mean Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, sorry boys but time’s up). While it may be obvious to everyone that the 1st round pick is a solid return, what may not be obvious is the prospect coming their way, while somewhat undersized, may just turn out to be the better part of the deal.
The Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL draft in Pittsburgh selected Brendan Leipsic of the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL in the 3rd round, 89th overall. Being picked 89th overall may be a bit misleading considering his size, 5’9” and 165 pounds. Leipsic, like many other players that don’t measure up in the size department, have to constantly battle the stigma that size signals talent, which most of us know is not always the case. In 2012-2013 Leipsic played 68 games with 49 goals and 71 assists for 120 points, good enough to earn the top scorer award for the entire CHL. In 2013-2014 he played 60 games with 39 goals and 52 assists for 91 points. In those 2 seasons combined he also racked up 214 penalty minutes and added an extra 36 points in playoff action. These are pretty good numbers, which show there is definitely talent here, but the question remains, will he be able to make that jump to become a difference maker in the AHL and eventually the NHL. It is looking good so far this season. In 47 games with the Milwaukee Admirals he has put up 7 goals and 28 assists for 35 points. Let’s take a look at two other NHL players who have followed a similar path to the one Leipsic is on now.
Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens was selected in the 5th round, 147th overall, in the 2010 entry draft. He was listed then at 5’9” and 163 pounds (sound familiar). He played 4 seasons in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants; Leipsic played 4 for the Winterhawks. In his final 2 seasons with the Giants Gallagher put up 44 goals and 47 assists for 91 points in 66 games in 2010-2011, and 41 goals and 36 assists for 77 points in 54 games in 2011-2012. He also put up 187 penalty minutes and added 12 points in the playoffs. At first glance it would seem that Leipsic has the slight edge in numbers.
Tyler Ennis of the Buffalo Sabres was selected in the 1st round, 26th overall, in the 2008 entry draft. He was listed as 5’9” and 146 pounds. He played 4 seasons for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL where he put up similar numbers to Leipsic. In 2007-2008 he had 43 goals and 48 assists for 91 points in 70 games and in 2008-2009 he had 43 goals and 42 assists for 85 points in 61 games. Although Ennis was selected higher, Leipsic put up 35 more points than Ennis over his final two seasons and played 3 fewer games than him.
Now I am not saying that he will eventually turn out to be a Brendan Gallagher who, let’s face it, was a gem to find in the 5th round, nor am I saying he will be as skilled as Tyler Ennis, but I’m not denying it can happen. What I am saying is that the numbers and the situations are eerily similar. It would seem that Leipsic is on the path to becoming a solid NHL player. Gallagher and Ennis had to battle questions about their size, which may be the reason they stayed in the juniors for 4 seasons. Leipsic’s questions also contain the size issue, but he also has to prove what he can do at this level, so far so good with Milwaukee this year.
Leipsic will be reporting to the Toronto Marlies where his tale with the Leafs will begin. This is where we will begin to see what type of player he can become. There is no guarantee he will be a quality NHL player, but the foundation is there as we have seen with many undersized players before him.