Ask Cape Breton Screaming Eagles defenseman Loïk Léveillé about his name and he’ll tell you it’s not the first time someone has done so.
A Google search of “Loïk” brings up more surnames than given names. Far from a popular name, Léveillé says his mother had a friend who helped inspire the name before he was born.
“Yeah, it’s just an uncommon French name,” the 18-year-old quipped, with a grin.
Uncommon as the name might be, it has been a regular sight to see Léveillé’s name mentioned among some of the QMJHL’s top defensemen this season, and with good reason.
The big, strong rearguard – he’s listed at 6’0” and 220 pounds – has played in all 49 games so far for the Screaming Eagles, and is far and away the team’s top-scoring defender; he has scored eight goals and added 32 assists. He is fourth on the team in scoring, and his 40 points is 16 more than Bradley Lalonde (2015), the team’s next highest-scoring defenseman.
“It’s a big year for me and I want to get drafted, so I’m doing the things that I need to on the ice,” said the St. Jerome, QC native.
Helping – or perhaps hindering – his draft status is the fact that his birthday is September 25th, making him one of the oldest first-year eligible players in this year’s NHL Draft. It’s true he will be older than most of his peers when June’s draft comes around, but Léveillé has gone above and beyond expectations this season to ensure he catches the eye of NHL scouts.
He was ranked 91st among North American skaters by Central Scouting, but given his recent play, he’s sure to continue rising. The month of January was by far the defenseman’s best month to date this season. In 12 games, he scored three goals and added 10 assists, including a strong two-goal effort against the Halifax Mooseheads on Jan. 18th.
And he has no problem admitting he’s playing with added motivation. Despite having similar offensive numbers to the QMJHL draft-eligible defensemen selected to play in the BMO CHL Top Prospects Game, Léveillé was overlooked.
“OK, I didn’t get invited, so I’m going to prove to them that I should have been invited,” he said, confidently. “I’m going to prove to them that I’m going to be drafted.”
Such improvements have been noticed by his head coach, Marc-Andre Dumont, who considers Léveillé the team’s “general” on defense.
“He’s a horse, extremely physical, blocks shots and he can log a lot of minutes,” Dumont said.
Not only is Léveillé one of the oldest first-year eligible NHL Draft prospects, he’s likely among the most mature, but not exactly by nature. Léveillé has had to grow up quick in the QMJHL, going from a top-five selection in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft to being traded twice in the span of two seasons.
The previous year of Midget hockey, with the Saint-Eustache Vikings, Léveillé recorded the most points among all Quebec defensemen. The Baie-Comeau Drakkar liked him enough to select him fifth overall, but after just 26 games with the club, he was dealt to Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
“Baie-Comeau had a team to go for the cup, so that’s why they traded me, for an older guy,” Léveillé said. “I didn’t expect that, I was young, and after they traded me to Chicoutimi, I was supposed to stay there, but then they traded me for the first overall pick (Nicolas Roy).”
He was to be included along with two consecutive first round picks for Roy, who was selected by Cape Breton first overall in the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft, but refused to report. Because the trade agreement was made after the league-wide trade freeze, Léveillé played 26 games with Chicoutimi that season before being sent to Cape Breton.
“We insisted on having him in the deal,” Dumont explained. “We would not have made the deal if Loïk was not on the table.”
“I grew up quickly in two years,” Léveillé added. “I’m more mature, I know what being traded is like, and I think everybody is going to be traded in their careers.”
In Cape Breton, he has found a home as well as a coaching staff that puts a lot of trust in the hulking defender. When he first arrived, the Screaming Eagles coaching staff was direct and up front with him, he said.
“You’re here for the end of your career – 19 or 20,” he recalls Dumont saying. “I hope 19, because I hope you’re going to play in the A(HL); that’s what they said.”
Playing with 20-year-old Arizona Coyotes prospect Justin Hache last season, Léveillé collected 17 points in 31 games for Cape Breton, a steady increase in production from his previous two teams. The team wanted to bring him along while playing with one of its more reliable defenders, and this year it’s paying dividends.
“When I came in last year, I was playing with Justin Hache, and they said, ‘OK, next year it’s your turn to be our (number one) defenseman.’ That helps a lot that they have confidence in my play,” Léveillé explained.
And as much as the offensive production has climbed this season, it’s his play in his own end that Léveillé is most proud of. His 220-pound frame is the result of a rigorous workout regimen that began in his second year of bantam. With tree trunk-like legs and a strong upper body, it’s not very often that he’s outmatched physically when battling for puck possession in the corners or behind his own net – “his fat percentage is below 10 per cent,” his coach added.
“That helps a lot when a guy is coming in on me I know I’m probably stronger than him so I’ve got confidence in my play there,” said Léveillé, who, like many young defensemen today, looks up to Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
“He’s a strong defenseman, very good defensively, and if you’re coming in on his side you know you’re going to be body-checked. He’s strong, and he’s awesome offensively, too.”
In the ‘Q,’ Léveillé’s importance to Cape Breton is about as equal as Doughty’s to the Kings. He’s an all-situation player who has certainly separated himself from some of his peers this season; whether or not his birthday affects his draft status will be up to NHL scouts to decide. Léveillé is doing his part to make that an easy decision.
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7