Sunday, August 19, 2012

One To Watch: Nashville Predators

The WHL has been solid hunting ground for the Predators over the years with some notable draft picks having played for the team. There has been somewhat of a shift lately to more European targets at the draft but even in the most recent event the Preds took a couple of WHL players. 

Nashville has build from within for the most part and have had a special knack for finding future NHL defencemen. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are two obvious examples but add Ryan Ellis, Jonathan Blum, Roman Josi and Kevin Klein to the mix and you have a pretty solid track record. 

Magnus Hellberg, another gigantic European goalie, arrives in North America this year ready to make a name for himself. Chet Pickard is going the opposite route as he has decided to play in Sweden for the coming season. 

Collegian Chase Balisy begins his junior season at Western Michigan where he has been a leading scorer for the Broncos in both of his years at the program.

Austin Watson is ready for pro hockey after a fine career in the OHL with Windsor, Peterborough and London. 

The player that has my attention coming into the new year is not a guy that the Preds will look to for scoring but when they need a spark. He might be a few years away but if all goes as planned, he'll be a crowd favorite when he arrives in Nashville. 

Photo: WHL

Brendan Leipsic (LW)

Portland Winterhawks
5'9, 170 lbs
Drafted 89th Overall in 2012

The first time I saw Brendan Leipsic in person was a memorable one. The schedule in the WHL limits travel for the American based clubs to making alternate trips to the two Eastern Conference divisions every other year so Portland's visit this past year was the first since 2009-10. 

When the Winterhawks came to Rexall Place in early October they were without Sven Bartschi (injured) and were badly outplayed by the Oil Kings. the final score was 8-4 for the home team and Portland left not looking anything like the team we'd see in May during the playoffs. 

The one player who stood out for Portland was Leipsic. He was the most physical player on the team that night, maybe for either team, and picked up two points. His tenacious style stood out on a night where all his teammates looked lethargic and uninterested. remember, this is a team that included Ty Rattie, Joe Morrow, Derrick Pouliot and Brad Ross.

Photo: Andy Devlin
I interviewed Leipsic briefly before the game and asked him to give us a self scouting report for what we should expect to see that night. 
"I play with a lot of speed, I'm pretty physical and I can put the puck in the net if I have a chance," he said.
 Talk about calling his shot - Leipsic scored, banged bodies all night and was flying around the ice stirring the pot. Leipsic ended the regular season with 28 goals, 58 points in 65 games and then popped in 15 more points in the playoffs. 

His performance early in the final series against Edmonton was memorable and we said it on the record that through Game 2 in Edmonton, Leipsic had been Portland's most consistent player. He scored a pair of goals in the second game, which knotted it up against Edmonton, and ended with 6 points in the 7-game series. 

Obviously he's not a big player but that plays well into his role as an agitator because no one likes to get hit but when you get laid out by a guy standing 5'9... it adds salt to the wound. Leipsic relishes the role he plays and takes a bit of an example from teammate Brad Ross, a notorious pest in WHL circles. 

Photo: Brad Lindsey
Someone asked me for a NHL comparable for Leipsic and as I've said before, I'm not a big fan of doing that but there is a guy who I think is a great example of what the Winnipeg native could be like. Boston Bruins pint sized pest Brad Marchand, a 5'9 spark plug, plays the exact style of game in the NHL that we've seen from Leispic in the WHL.

I am intrigued to see what another year in the WHL does for Leipsic. He increased his scoring a lot last year from what already was a good rookie season but now he'll get an even bigger offensive role with Sven Bartschi moving on (and maybe more players.)

For those reasons, and just because he's a lot of fun to see in person, I've singled out Nashville's Brendan Leipsic as "One to Watch" in 2012-13.

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