Here’s a moment: Joey MacDonald spots then-Milwaukee F Brendan Leipsic skating down toward the goalie’s left side. Leipsic has the puck, and the D are converging. He’s made himself all kinds of space for the move he pulls, though, hanging back to wait for an opening.
MacDonald thinks it’s a fake and stays glove side, but that's fine. The other winger is where he should be, and Leipsic shifts weight on his skates to pass. But the goalie isn’t buying it, thinking Leipsic is waiting for a chance to shoot, and Leipsic hangs on to outwait him.
It seems to take forever and no time at all, because in the extra second that Leipsic waits, MacDonald becomes completely frozen. And THAT is when Leipsic passes, sending it straight to the tape of the left winger, who shoots it into the wide-open blocker-side gap that Leipsic has made.
Does this moment describe Leipsic’s skill? Almost. It depicts one of the moves in his lexicon. He has more, and they're all marked by a clear-thinking style, coupled with skating that makes time and space for him on the ice. But that's not all, he's also got a hard edge to him, and his REAL signature move is Getting Shit Done.
This acquisition, drafted by the Predators in 2012, came to Toronto in February of 2015 as part of the Franson and Santorelli trade to Nashville. Formerly with the Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, Leipsic had steady production for his first six games with the Marlies, but his breakthrough week happened two months after his trade. In the second week of April, he scored his first professional hat-trick and two game-winning goals in three games, earning him player of the week status for April 12th.
Dropped into an all-rookie line with Connor Brown and Ryan Rupert, the excellent line chemistry between these three paid immediate dividends. Leipsic’s play with this line helped cement the Marlies’ playoff position. In all, his production with the Admirals and Marlies earned him 54 points in 74 games (14 goals, 40 assists), second only to Connor Brown.
Leipsic attributes this line’s ability to score to speed rather than size, saying, "We’re not the biggest line and we’re not the tallest line, but I think we hold on to pucks down low in the offensive zone and our quickness works to our advantage."
At a reported 5’9 and 177 lbs, he is sometimes described as undersized (especially compared to his dogs), but he’s not afraid of playing hard, often compared to Brendan Gallagher for his pesky tenacity with the puck, but is something he actually attributes to sessions with Teemu Selanne at a young age.
Not only that, but he's also well known as a pest, sometimes compared to Brad Marchand for size and snark, and even achieving the dubious title of "most annoying prospect" in 2014. (His water bottle story rivals that of David Clarkson.)
Reviewing his tape, it's clear that his style is encapsulated by a heavy drive toward the net -- whether by slapshot from the top of the circle at wing, or by crashing the net at C. He's versatile, used in different positions, but the unifying message in his play is his focus on getting the puck into the net, whether from his own stick, or his linemates'.
Leipsic already has his eyes on a higher goal, and is as excited as the rest of us are that the Leafs are in a rebuild. He said to the Toronto Star, "Any organization you’re with, you want to make the NHL. It’s a bonus when a team is in a bit of a rebuild. You’re trying to get better every day and leave a good impression with your play in the playoffs. You never know."
His downside? Leipsic is facing a decision. Will he remain a playmaker, a forward who records more assists than goals? Or will he return to the shoot-first mentality that brought him the CHL scoring title in 2013? More experience will undoubtedly get him more comfortable on professional ice and help him decide.
Clark spoke to ESPN's Corey Pronman about Leipsic and his future development with the Maple Leafs.
Corey Pronman on Leipsic
CP: He won battles, got chances in front of the net, and didn't seem to be overwhelmed physically. At his size that's always going to be an issue, and in the NHL he'll lose the majority of his 1v1's, but with his skating and skill he just needs to pass a certain bar.
PPP: The Maple Leafs have preached patience in development of their prospects, that they will promote players when they are ready. So... when do you think Leipsic will be ready?
CP: He's close. I could see one more full season in the AHL.
PPP: What does he need to do to prove that he's ready for that jump?
CP: I'd like to see him be used reliably in any situation like Connor Brown was this season, although that's probably not his game. With players like him it always comes down to strength/bulk, and how he looks like versus big defenders who he can't outskate in terms of if he can create scoring chances.
Leipsic is the last prospect in our rankings that failed to receive a ranking from one of the voters, which looks like a real big outlier given the consensus rankings being around the Top 10. While missing out on one ranking likely cost him a place or two in the rankings, he makes a very respectable debut at #12 and is likely to move up again with another strong season in the AHL.