“It was definitely a motivating piece of my life, getting passed over, realizing my dream could be coming to an end all of a sudden,” Brett Leason said in an interview with SportsNet last week in Toronto. The Capitals second round draft pick in 2019 was referring to the fact that he went unselected in two NHL drafts before being selected in the second round (56th overall) last June.
Leason’s career in the WHL also started slowly. Originally selected by the Tri-City Americans, Leason found himself on a roster stacked with 20-year-old forward prospects. He would total just nine goals and 10 assists in 81 games played spread over parts of three seasons before requesting the club for a trade. On October 26, 2017, the Americans traded Leason to the Prince Albert Raiders.
As we’ve seen before, sometimes a change in scenery is all that’s needed. Leason would finish the remainder of the 2017-2018 season scoring 15 goals and registering 17 assists in 54 games with the Raiders. Unfortunately the improvement went unnoticed by NHL teams, as Leason was passed over once again in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
“So I think that pushed me and motivated me to have the summer I did and the season that I did, never giving up and even now, continuing to push it and try to be the best I can be.”
Leason would continue his strong play the following season, scoring 36 goals and registering 53 assists in 55 games played for the Raiders. Leason, who turned 20 last April, was now on everyone’s draft list. The Capitals grabbed him in the second round. The Capitals would sign Leason to entry-level deal just days after his first development camp with the team.
SportsNet did a pre-draft piece on Leason last spring:
Leason had a thrill of a hockey lifetime last month, lining up next to superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom with the Capitals during a pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues.
“Playing alongside Ovie and Backstrom — just one of the best in the game in Ovie, one of the best goal scorers, Backstrom, one of the best playmakers in the league for a long time — so I think it was just that moment that kind of shocked me, like ‘Wow, I’m here,’” Leason reflected.
According to SportsNet, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told Leason that he’d spend the year in Hershey and that he needs to work on being quicker and making smarter decisions along the wall, among other things. He’d then come back with a year of pro experience under his belt and be better equipped to have a strong crack at making the Capitals next season.
Life In The AHL
Leason has just one assist in eight games played so far for the Bears this season.
Leason’s relatively slow start in the AHL is not uncommon for players making the jump from Juniors to the professional ranks. Leason admitted he’s had trouble finding time and space.
“Everyone’s good, everyone’s quick, so that’s something I’m still trying to figure out,” he said to SportsNet. “I’m working on my release, trying to get that off quick, trying to solve small things, just trying to play smarter and quicker. But so far it’s been good, been getting chances, but the puck’s not bouncing my way right now.”
Work To Be Done
Hershey head coach Spencer Carbery said he’s not concerned about Leason’s lack of production so far, but rather is focused on helping him create opportunities to set him up long term.
“He just has to get comfortable with the speed, the heaviness, being able to use his body and his reach, because he has great hands, he can finish, he’s really strong on his stick, which is another really good quality for a power forward like himself for finding pucks and pulling pucks out of tight areas,” he said.
“So he’ll just get more and more comfortable with that, but … we’re focusing on details with him, that’s going to help him down the road be an NHL player for years to come.”
Carbery said Leason could also stand to get stronger so he can use his frame more effectively along the boards and in front of the net, and improve his skating so he can create separation from defenders in the O-zone or off the rush.
By Jon Sorensen