Josh Leivo: Movin’ On Up
With the graduations of Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin to the NHL, the prospect pipeline becomes a little thinner up front, particularly in terms of top-end skill. This will be an opportunity for some fans to look a little further down the depth chart at some of the budding talent and potential future Toronto Maple Leafs.
One name that has been under the radar for most of his prospect career has been Josh Leivo, the Leafs’ 3rd round pick in 2011. Surfacing here and there in prospect conversations, his “power forward” potential has been overshadowed by fellow 2011 draftee Tyler Biggs, amongst others in the organization. At the NHL level, the play of James van Riemsdyk and the bullish power-type game that the above-mentioned Frattin brings to the table, coupled with a concussion that sidelined Leivo earlier this year have all contributed to the young winger getting a bit of an “afterthought treatment” from fans. Were Don Cherry to read this article he might stop at this point given that Leivo sounds Finnish and that the young chap succumbed to an injury… but don’t worry Don, he’s from Ontario – Innisfil to be precise – and he’s been a solid player since his return from concussion-like symptoms.
All kidding aside, being overlooked probably won’t come as a surprise to Leivo himself. His path to draft night in 2011 featured enough “rising from obscurity” that Leivo is probably accustomed to not being constantly in the limelight. When drafted into the OHL, Leivo had to wait until the Sudbury Wolves took him with their 205th pick in the 11th round in 2009. Leivo was a young 16 year old and admits to being a little nervous playing in the OHL. Over time, the winger fell steadily on the Wolves’ depth chart and was forced to earn his way back, a blessing in disguise. Eventually Leivo wound up paired on a line with highly-touted prospect Michael Sgarbossa and Russian import Andrey Kuchin, but it was too little too late, or so it seemed. Despite his on-ice improvement, Leivo was left off the Central Scouting final rankings for 2011, which when looking at his 30 points in 64 regular season games might not come as a total shock. Truth be told, however, Leivo registered the majority of his points in the latter stages of the season, helping the Wolves make the palyoffs in the cliché “stretch run”. His production and play continued to evolve in the playoffs as Leivo started to make a name for himself.
In just 8 playoff games, the 6’2” 190lbs left-winger put up 6 goals and 13 points, and was as dominant a player as Sudbury had. This production, albeit an extremely small sample, coupled with his having just turned 18 and being a potential “late bloomer” were major reasons for his draft status. Though the selection at 86 overall appeared relatively risky given that it banked on Leivo’s ability to match or improve on numbers he’d yet to show consistently in the OHL, the project pick but to date has thrived with increased minutes and pressure, and has continued to impress those that are paying attention.
Leivo possesses a frame that could certainly fill in to a typical and expected power-forward body. His size, however, isn’t all he brings to the table that conjures up visions of a rugged scoring forward in the making. For a quick insight into his production at the junior level, when Leivo returned to his Subdury Wolves (OHL) in December, he picked up right where he left off and continued to lead the team in scoring. Through 34 games, Leivo put up 44 points and registered a +14, and was no longer playing with Sgarbossa (graduated to AHL), but rather emerged as a leader on a line with 17-year-old Dominik Kahun. Leivo was rewarded with an ‘A’ on his jersey, and remained a consistent threat for the Wolves until he was dealt to the Kitchener Rangers who were putting together a team primed for a deep playoff run. Leivo slotted in with Matt Puempel (OTT) and Matia Marcantuoni (PIT) in Kitchener, again showing that he could be a catalyst and produced as he did in Sudbury. In 18 games with Kitchener, Leivo notched 15 assists and 21 points to go along with a +8 rating. His 1.17 PPG clip with Kitchener is tops on the team with his combined season total PPG rate being even higher at 1.25. His current 65 points in 52 games have him at 17th on the OHL’s scoring race page, and while that’s not the elite echelon of producers, Leivo’s smart approach to the game also draws intrigue. Before being dealt to the Rangers, Sudbury GM had this to say about the winger: “The Leafs have quite a prospect, many nights he carried our offence. He creates his own offence, and reacts well on the ice. Stickhandles in a phone booth, as they say.”
Leafs prospect guru Curt Snoddon of Blue Chip Prospects (BCP) says in particular what draws him to Leivo is the winger’s ability and penchant to hang on to the puck. Displaying that puck-confidence is a big part of a power-forward’s game as they’re often relied on for their skating the biscuit towards the net, rather than just firing it from distance. It’s also something that sets Leivo apart from other power-forward hopeful Tyler Biggs, whose own recent transition to the OHL with the Oshawa Generals has been fruitful (24 goals, 48 points in 54 games). Though he’s producing, Snoddon assesses the 22nd overall pick’s play as a little trigger happy in terms of getting rid of the puck quickly rather than exhibiting the assertion that Leivo might on a more consistent basis. Snoddon admits, though, that Biggs is likely the “safer” pick of the two in that his style is likely translatable at the NHL level sooner than Leivo, given his propensity for the excelling at grinding and fore-checking nuances of the game. Biggs plays a really heavy and hard-hitting game at right wing, and has the physique to support that at 6’3” and 225lbs, but Leivo’s offensive ceiling and skill level is higher at this point in their respective projection paths as potential future NHLers.
Leivo’s defensive proficiency is also an attractive quality for a player that’s shaping up to be a pretty complete forward looking to turn pro. As TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently tweeted: “TOR prospect Josh Leivo (Kitchener) just went bar down in Brampton for his 26th of season. Leivo is a good prospect. Leafs are high on him.” With the Marlies looking to add some skill following recent graduations, Leivo again seems to be impressing onlookers at just the right time. Seems like he has a knack for that…