Training camp is just two months away (can you believe it?!) and that means fans and the Maple Leafs organization will get a good look at some of its top prospects. Most project to return to their junior club, while others to the AHL Toronto Marlies. But with the uncertainty surrounding the bottom-six (especially the fourth-line) there will be ample opportunity for some prospects to crack the opening night lineup against the Montreal Canadians on October 8th
There will be plenty of players that will be given a hard look by GM Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle, with Josh Leivo being one of the top guys. Leivo, a third round pick of the Leafs in 2011, is coming off his first professional season in which he impressed with 23 goals. He has been trending up every season since his draft year and there are no signs to suggest that will differ in the 2014-15 season.
The Innisfil, Ontario native had a seven-game tryout with the Leafs early last season in order for the organization to see how the left-winger would fare against bigger, faster competition. He scored his first career goal, while adding an assist in those seven games, showing some defensive responsibilities and throwing his 6’2” body around. He only got 9:52 of total ice time and while Carlyle was happy with how the 20-year-old performed, he felt it was better for his development to skate more in the AHL.
Leivo’s versatile, all-around play is what impresses the Leafs front office. He battles hard in the corners and effectively protects the puck. His size and strong lower body allow him to win pucks down low and get chances on net. His heavy motor has been a factor in many of his goals throughout his career. He gets into position for rebounds and puts his own above-average wrist shot on net for an opportunity to put his own rebound in the back of the net.
He has been effective down low in large part because of his height, but this lanky body has shown to be easily shoved around. Leivo was able to survive in his first professional season, despite his 182 pound frame, with making the right decisions when to fore-check and intelligently choosing his battles in the corners to avoid injury. But if he does make the Maple Leafs roster out of training camp, he’ll have to put on a few more pounds in order to play his style and to survive an 82-game schedule.
His skating needs to get better. At times he looks clumsy going down the ice and attempting to make sharp turns to get back in his defensive zone, but his erratic style has shown to be effective on the penalty kill. There are plenty of players who have made a very good living in the NHL who weren’t very good skaters, so it isn’t a huge concern of the Leafs.
Leivo projects to be a top-nine power forward that will get time of both special team units. He likes hanging around the net so he will get a lot of dirty goals (the kinds you see often in the playoffs). He has more strengths in his game than weaknesses and only has room to improve.
He will have a chance in training camp to beat out guys like Troy Bodie, Carter Ashton, and 2014 first round pick William Nylander. If he doesn’t make the team right away, look for him to get the call-up if Randy Carlyle is dissatisfied with the production of his bottom-six forwards.