Closing off our third week in our Season in Review series is Josh Leivo, who was one of the more pleasant surprises of the season when he played, and the subject of much debate when he didn’t.
Leivo only played in thirteen games this year, but when he was in, he produced. Leivo scored two goals and added eight assists, and that’s after going pointless in the first four games. His biggest streak came in mid to late February, grabbing 9 points in 8 games over two weeks.
The end result is fascinating. For those who love their numbers, Leivo was perhaps Toronto’s most efficient player in the time that he played. His 3.12 points per 60 minutes played was highest on the team by a considerable margin, and second in the league to Steven Stamkos (!!). Of players who played at least 10 games, nobody picked up points in a higher percentage of the goals scored with them on the ice (87.5%). While Leivo wasn’t having much luck finding the back of the net, only Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and James van Riemsdyk shot more frequently.
As well, no player was better at driving play. The Leafs took more shot attempts when Leivo was on the ice and gave up fewer, leading him to lead the team in relative Corsi-For percentage. He did so while getting middle-of-the-pack zone starts, though the competition he was facing was weaker.
Did I mention that he makes $612,500 and did this while playing with Brian Boyle and Matt Martin?
The first one: We have no idea if any of those statistics are going to stick. It was a great, promising run, but it was also a very brief one of 135 minutes. It’s unlikely that if he had been playing all 82 games that he’d come close to that 70 or so point pace while playing on the fourth line. There are all sorts of decent but not mindblowing players near the top of the rate production and relative possession charts, simply because they came in hot and they didn’t get a chance to cool down.
Leivo’s team-focused weaknesses are based on his position in the lineup. The Leafs presently like to use their fourth line to tone-set and kill time, while also stashing some of their penalty kill specialists there for safe keeping. Leivo lost a lot of time this year to Nikita Soshnikov specifically because he doesn’t kill penalties, and isn’t as driven to be a forechecker, shot blocker, or whatever else than most.
With that in mind, he’d have to take somebody’s spot in the higher parts of the lineup. Could they have maybe swapped him and Zach Hyman around? Perhaps. But pulling down William Nylander, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk, Connor Brown, or Leo Komarov would’ve been a tough task.
Ultimately, Leivo’s weakness is abundance and unpredictability. With 18 points in 41 career games, he’s probably suitable as a depth scorer, but the room isn’t here.
It’s pretty likely that Leivo will be the 8th forward of 7 in the next few days, exposing him for potential selection by the Vegas Golden Knights. I have to imagine that if the choices remain as expected (aka, if there isn’t a trade in the next hour), the ability he’s shown to finish at the AHL level and generate shots at this level will be appealing to a team that likely won’t be able to find cheap, raw scorers. It’d be nice to keep him, and I absolutely disagree with the protection prioritization that the team is rumoured to have presently, but if this is the end for Leivo in his home town, he deserves every opportunity he can get next year with his new squad.