The Washington Capitals selected forward Ryan Leonard with the 8th overall pick in the 2023 NHL entry draft Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The selection marks the first time in franchise history the Capitals have selected a player from USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) in the first round.
While Leonard is listed as a center, he played all three forward positions with the US National U18 squad. He was also part of the dynamic line composed of Gabe Perreault and Will Smith. The entire trio is headed to Boston College for the 2023-24 season.
The 18-year-old had a strong year with the U18 team racking up 94 points (51 goals, 43 assists) in 57 games. In the USHL, he had 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 17 games. He also led Team USA to a gold medal in the U18 World Championship, scoring the “golden goal” in overtime.
One word sticks out when referring to the Amherst, Mass., native: power. Leonard is an outstanding power forward that never stops moving his feet, much like Zach Benson. He described himself as having a “Tkachuk-esque bite” to his game. He goes after every single puck in all three zones and is positionally aware of where he needs to be whenever a defensemen pinches.
Despite standing at 5-foot-11, Leonard is very strong and rarely gets knocked off the puck. He is not afraid to attack the net and use his body to shield the opposition from the puck. He is a very powerful and explosive skater with incredible balance. Leonard’s shot is also deadly. It is deceptive, powerful and accurate.
Scouts have not found a lot of holes in his game. Sometimes he does puck watch despite being a 200-foot player, but the big question is his ceiling as an NHL player. How good can he be without playing alongside star players?
Leonard is a consensus top 10 pick. The Caps could use a versatile, high-octane power forward in their system and Leonard fits that mold perfectly.
Leonard has often been the top-line right wing on the U.S. NTDP playing a ton of minutes in all situations. He was invited to USA’s world juniors camp but was cut. He scored the golden goal in overtime at the 2023 U18 worlds. He played the most out of all the 2005-born players with the 2004 age group in the 2022 season. Leonard scored five goals and six points in five games at the 2022 U18 World Championships. He is committed to Boston College.
Leonard is a versatile winger with a lot of elements to his game that an NHL coach will covet. He’s a strong skater who competes very well, with a direct style of play and despite an average-sized frame he has a lot of physicality in his game. He combines that with excellent hands and an ability to make highly skilled plays with the puck at full speed. His playmaking isn’t great but there’s vision and finishing ability in his game to score at higher levels. Leonard may never truly stand out at either end of the ice, but he will never give a coach a reason to sit him and projects as a quality top-six wing.
The thunder to Will Smith’s lightning, Ryan Leonard is a winger who will go through you if he doesn’t see a path around you. He attacks the middle in the offensive zone, skating downhill at defenders with speed and power while having the requisite skill level to dangle opponents when necessary. Leonard shows the most defensive aptitude of any of the NTDP’s top-line players, using his strength and physicality to his advantage, but his positional play must continue to improve. Leonard has a wicked release from a distance and can make tidy work of loose pucks in tight. He is a finisher with developing playmaking abilities, showing that he can be an excellent complement to a highly-skilled center in a team’s top six.
Leonard has lengthy reach that allows him to loose pucks in the offensive zone in a highly contested situation. He will grab onto the puck and then use his reach again to push the puck away from the attacker. Once securing the puck, should pressure shift over to Leonard quickly, he will then look to complete drop passes to teammates skating towards him. After completing the drop pass, Leonard typically looks to skate to the slot and set himself up at the doorstep. He’s drawing pressure away, looking to catch attackers puck watching and sets himself up at net front to provide an intriguing passing option for the teammate that he passed to. Not only does Leonard create the passing option in high danger, but he also is in position to tip-in / deflect pucks or capitalize with rebound goals.
Ryan Leonard is a high energy winger who never takes his foot off the gas in terms of both speed and effort. He uses his speed and skill to blow by defenders in the neutral zone and pressure in-zone defenders who struggle to anticipate his next move. His playmaking and shot aren’t exceptional, but they’re both good enough to be reasonably sure that his offense would translate to the NHL some day. – Logan Horn – THW.com
Leonard is dangerous with the puck in the offensive zone, possessing a pro-calibre shot and hands. He is incredibly deceptive, using his upper body and eyes to turn defenders’ feet and sticks before walking around them or getting a shot on net. Leonard is a great facilitator, as well. After making a move, he can find guys in stride in dangerous spots. An above-average skater, Leonard can employ all of these tools off the rush too, making him even more versatile.
NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING:
Very skilled and offensively gifted player. Hockey sense is excellent. Threat to score every shift because of his excellent shot, a goal-scorers touch and the ability to find open space. Hard guy to play against because of his relentless effort and playing style. Gets in on the forecheck quickly and backchecks with a purpose. He can drive play and put opposing defenders on their heels with his 200-foot game. A very exciting player to watch.
Ranked #7 by CONSOLIDATED RANKING
Ranked #6 by ELITEPROSPECTS.COM
Ranked #22 by FCHOCKEY
Ranked #6 by FLOHOCKEY/CHRIS PETERS
Ranked #7 by DAILY FACEOFF
Ranked #7 by THE HOCKEY NEWS
Ranked #6 by TSN/BOB McKENZIE
Ranked #8 by MCKEEN’S HOCKEY
Ranked #12 by TSN/CRAIG BUTTON
Ranked #5 by NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING (NA Skaters)
Ranked #6 by SPORTSNET
Ranked #6 by HPR/SHANE MALLOY
Ranked #7 by RECRUIT SCOUTING
Ranked #10 by DOBBERPROSPECTS
Ranked #7 by DRAFT PROSPECTS HOCKEY
Ranked #11 by SMAHT SCOUTING
CAPITALS IN THE TOP 10
Washington picked in the top 10 for the first time since 2007, when they selected defenseman Karl Alzner fifth overall. Prior to 2007, the last two times the Capitals picked in the top 10 they selected Nicklas Backstrom (fourth overall in 2006) and Alex Ovechkin (first overall in 2004).
We, too, would not want to be hit by an Ovi one-timer pic.twitter.com/7hDQD93FjF
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 29, 2023
The Capitals also hold the 40th pick (second round), 104th pick (fourth round), 136th pick (fifth round) and 200th overall pick (seventh round) which will be made on the second day of the draft on Thursday.
2023 NHL Entry Draft
Capitals Select Ryan Leonard With The 8th Overall Pick In The 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Deep Dive On Ryan Leonard – Capitals First Round Pick In The 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Capitals Select Andrew Cristall In The Second Round Of The 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Capitals Select Patrick Thomas In The Fourth Round Of The 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Capitals Select Cameron Allen In The Fifth Round Of The 2023 NHL Entry Draft
Capitals Select Brett Hyland In The Seventh Round Of The 2023 NHL Entry Draft
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By Jacob Cheris and Jon Sorensen