The Toronto Maple Leafs believe that Brendan Leipsic, a 20-year-old winger that the club acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli trade, has the skill level and the competitive makeup to be an NHL player down the road.
“The only downside in terms of Brendan is his lack of size,” Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said during a conference call with media on Sunday. “But as we’ve seen in this game particularly over the last year or so is that smaller players are finding a way to play.”
“He’s got a lot of ability,” Nonis continued in describing Leipsic’s game later a bit later on during his media availability. He’s got great sense around the net, he’s a great passer, but more than that he’s a very competitive guy. Some of the smaller stature guys need to have that edge.”
Let’s take a more in-depth look at Leipsic’s track record.
A former Portland Winterhawks forward, Leipsic, 20, was a third-round pick of the Predators in 2012. His draft year production was nothing to write home about, although he did manage a very solid 33 points in 68 games at a 16-year-old in the tough Western Hockey League. It seems likely that he had an outlier shooting percentage in one of those seasons (as a 16-year-old, or in his draft eligible season).
According to research from Josh Weissbock – a Nation Network contributor and the purveyor of CHLstats.com – based on Leipsic’s statistical profile in major junior, his closest comparables include Francis Perron, Jean-Yves Leroux, Cameron Mann, Jordan Caron, Travis Brigley and Michel St-Jacques. Not exactly a murderers row of NHLers. If we take his height (5’10) into account, the success rate of comparable CHL players is 3.7 percent – which is a significantly lower hit rate than average.
What can’t be ignored is Leipsic’s stellar performance as a 20-year-old rookie in the American Hockey League. With seven goals and 36 points in 47 games played, Leipsic is currently 4th among all AHL rookies in scoring and is logging major minutes for a Milwaukee Admirals team that Hockeystats.ca estimates to be among the top-10 puck possession sides in the league.
On the other hand, the Admirals are converting on the highest percentage of shots of any team in the league, so it’s likely that Leipsic’s point totals are inflated somewhat by common puck luck. Also the freshly minted Maple Leafs forward is facing the third lowest estimated quality of competition among his teammates, which would suggest that he’s probably being deployed in a cushy spot.
The Leafs intend on taking their time with Leipsic, and it would be a surprise if he were to get more than a short sniff in the NHL this season.
“We’ve got time with him,” Nonis explained on Sunday. “He’s only in his entry-level contract, and we’ll try and bring him along slowly, but we like his upside in terms of his offensive ability and the way he competes. He’s a very competitive guy. “
What it comes down to is that Leipsic is another lottery ticket, and precisely the sort of asset a team in the early stages of a new rebuilding phase should be looking to accumulate.
“He’s going to have a chance,” said Nonis, “and it’s going to be up to us to develop him, and on him to put the work in, and we’ll see where he ends up. But we’re very pleased to have him.”