He has his money. Now Brendan Leipsic needs a chance to show he can play in the NHL.
The 23-year-old left wing from Winnipeg sees a great opportunity with the Golden Knights, and he’s preparing for September’s training camp with the idea he’s playing in the NHL, not the American Hockey League, where he’s been the majority of his pro career since the Nashville Predators drafted him in the third round of the 2012 entry draft.
“I’m going to get my chance, and it’s up to me to take advantage of it,” said Leipsic, who signed a two-year deal with the Knights last Saturday for $650,000 per season. “The door’s been opened for me.
“I’m not going to change my workout routine too much. I don’t know the coach (Gerard Gallant). But I hear he’s a players’ coach, and I want to be in the best shape possible to compete for a spot.”
The 5-foot-10 inch, 180-pound Leipsic spent the last 2 1/2 seasons with Toronto, playing for the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. His NHL experience totals a mere six games, all in 2015-16, when he had a goal and two assists. But from that very small sampling came motivation.
“Everything is magnified at the NHL level,” he said. “The locker room’s are bigger and nicer. The travel is better. It’s a nice life. That’s why everyone works so hard to try and get there, and once you get there, you’re working twice as hard to stay there.”
But the reality was there were a glut of forwards with the Leafs, and it probably was better for Leipsic to be on the ice at Ricoh Coliseum, the Marlies’ home rink, than to sit in the press box as a healthy scratch at the Air Canada Centre and watch Auston Matthews and Co. He skated a regular shift in the AHL and in 49 games last season had 18 goals and 33 assists.
“The Marlies treated you like an NHL player,” he said. “So in that sense, it wasn’t bad playing in the AHL. But every player dreams of playing in the NHL, and when you’re playing in the same city as an NHL team, it’s there every day for you to look at.
“I feel like I’ve developed in the three years I spent in the American League. I think I make good decisions with the puck. I’ve always known how to score, and I’ve become better playing without the puck. I got to work on the penalty kill last year and that was a sign the coaches trusted me.”
When Toronto had to make its decision who to leave exposed in the expansion draft, it was a tough call. Many believed veteran Matt Martin would be exposed. Instead, general manager Lou Lamoriello decided to make Leipsic available to the Golden Knights.
“I’ve learned to expect the unexpected,” Leipsic said. “It’s no secret there’s a logjam in Toronto with all the good young forwards they have,” he said. “So I was open to the idea of being picked by Vegas.”
Being from Winnipeg, Leipsic is familiar with a couple of his potential teammates in goaltender Calvin Pickard and center Cody Eakins. He also knows who first-round draft pick Cody Glass, who also hails from Winnipeg.
“We’re all excited to be part of this,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one day we’ll all look back on, that it was pretty cool to be part of it.”
Contact Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.