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Maple Leafs' Top 25 Under 25: Josh Leivo falls back to No. 18

A familiar face in a familiar place.

No, I don't know what's going on with his right eye in this photo.
No, I don't know what's going on with his right eye in this photo.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the sixth time Josh Leivo has made the Maple Leafs' Top 25 Under 25, dating all the way back to the inaugural edition in 2012.  It's an honour unique to him; every other member of that year's T25U25 class has either left the organization, or aged out, or both.  Surreally, since he's 23, Leivo will still be eligible for the Leafs' T25U25 next year, should he remain with the organization.

But Leivo's rise and fall through the rankings--21st, then 18th, then 9th, then 8th, then 15th, and now 18th again--points to the question hanging over him.  It's the same question Clark asked last summer: is it ever going to happen with Leivo?

Josh Leivo is this year's #18.

The Results

All of our voters but one ranked Josh Leivo, and they had him in spots ranging from 24th (birky) all the way up to 10th (J.P., Burtch, and 67 Sound.)  Leivo might be a perfect test case of balancing potential with NHL-readiness.  He's been knocking on the NHL's door for a couple of years now, but his long stay on the threshold has thrown his potential into some question.

Katya's take:

Leivo is at the earn it stage still.  I did not feel he played up to NHL pace, but he is more gifted offensively than Hyman. I felt Leivo was often too late into the play, but he could get points once he got there. I think Leivo needs to wow in camp.

It's hard not to get the feeling our panel was tired of talking about Leivo, simply because it's all been said in years before.  Unlike other prospects whom we internally discussed to death, there was a definite sense of "him again?" with Josh.

Leivo had one of the largest spreads of any player in our countdown.  His ability and his apparent stagnation pulled some voters one way, some voters the other way, and left the rest sawing off in the middle.

Voter Scott Wheeler 67 Sound Birky Arvind Elseldo Emily Achariya JP Nikota Species Burtch Katya Fulemin Mike B Chris H
Rank 18 23 24 17 18 21 - 10 16 10 15 17 16 18

The Player

Josh Leivo is a big, capable scoring winger, clocking in at a rangy 6'2" and 195 lbs.  He came within a whisper of point-per-game in the AHL last season (17G-31A-48P in 51 GP.)  As you might notice from looking at his statlines above, his last three seasons have gone more or less the same: a decent offensive stretch with the Marlies and a short cameo with the Leafs.  Both stints went better this year than ever before, setting a personal AHL best in points and putting up a Brandon Pirri-esque 5G-0A in 12 Leafs games.  (The NHL goal total was off a 25% shooting percentage, before anyone gets too carried away.)  He also put up good possession numbers in that admittedly tiny sample, for whatever that's worth.

There's a lot to like when you carve up Leivo's AHL stats.  He's a gunner at that level, finishing second only to Mark Arcobello in shots per game on that shoot-the-lights-out Marlies team last year.  By one measure, he looks especially good; he was first on the team in even strength primary points per game, finishing ahead of even William Nylander.  He was middling on the team in goals-for % at EV, meaning that despite his reputedly poor defensive game, the Marlies were doing fine with him on the ice.  Jeffler has previously compared Leivo to Joffrey Lupul, and before Lupul offended a malevolent wizard and was cursed to perpetual injury, he was a damn good offensive player.

If you'd like to see Leivo score a couple of goals, check out him finishing off this two-on-one with P.A. Parenteau, or smoking this shot from the slot on the PP. This emphasizes Leivo's shot, but he also has a nifty passing game to go with it.  He knows how to pick his spots at forward, and he can use his size to his advantage, though he's not an especially physical player.  In short: Leivo helps goals happen.

Despite all this pleasant information, there's a serious concern Leivo may stay stuck as a fringe NHL player.  His defensive game has still never been much to write home about, his offence projects to decent but unspectacular at the NHL level, and the Leafs have an incredibly crowded forward depth chart.  Taking a look at the Leafs' LW depth, Leivo is dealing with Lupul, Greening, Michalek, Martin, and Rychel as he tries to find a spot on the bottom three lines.  He's a long ways from a given to make it, and he may well be a great Marlies winger for yet another season.  The tantalizing hypothetical where he finds NHL chemistry with a good centre is still yet to realize.

I don't want to give up too early on a good player; there are positive signs to go with the negative.  The Leafs just gave Leivo a financial vote of confidence, for one thing.  Josh--who is no longer waiver-exempt--will pull in two years at $612K on a one-way deal, meaning he'll be dirt-cheap in any NHL time and well-compensated in the minors.  If and when some of those veteran names clear out, Leivo might get a look in as a depth scorer, and it's easy to see him as a useful 3LW sometime in the next two seasons.  It does bear repeating that he's coming off his best pro season.

Plenty of talented players get stuck on the edge of the NHL.  Leivo can still avoid being part of that group.  But if it doesn't happen soon, it may never.