Legwand carves path from hockey in Michigan to pros

By Derek Berry
The player they compare to Mike Modano, another state of Michigan
hockey superstar, is making a name for himself in the ranks of the
National Hockey League. It will only be after several years in the
league that those comparisons will start to diminish.

In the meantime, the high-profile draft pick and native Detroiter
continues to create excitement on the ice with his talent and
ability…talents that many saw him use to his full capacity while playing
in the Compuware system and with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.

“You can see the signs that he’s going to be a great player,” says
Nashville Predators assistant coach Brent Peterson. “He’s only
20-years-old, he’s still learning the game, and yet we’ve thrown him
into the lineup every night and he’s handled it well.”

Certainly Peterson says Legwand has a lot to learn about the pro game,
but the tools are there.

“He has the potential to be an outstanding player as soon as he
matures,” says Peterson, a former Detroit Red Wing, who played with the
Wings back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before Legwand was even
born. “He’s a Modano-style player, with terrific skills and he’s done
as much as we want him to.”

Adjusting to the long season schedule in the NHL and the travel has
been a big part of the climb for Legwand, who has 9 goals and 23 assists
for 32 points in 64 games so far this season for the Predators.

“It’s a different game up here,” says Legwand. “You get better every
game and you realize it’s all about total team effort,” he remarks, as
the Predators make a late-season push for the playoffs.

Legwand attributes a lot of his success to growing up in the hockey
crazy Metro Detroit area. “It was good growing up in the big hockey
city…very exciting,” he says. He even still keeps up with his old team,
the Whalers, who speak very fondly of him.

Mike Vellucci, current president of the Compuware Arena and the
Plymouth Whalers, who coached Legwand when he played Bantams for
Compuware in the Tier II system, says Legwand’s speed and vision could
not be matched.

“You could see right away that he was something,” says Vellucci. “With
his skating ability, his size and speed, there was no doubt in our minds
what he could do for us, the Whalers and even beyond.”

Legwand’s Plymouth Whalers coach, Peter DeBoer, like Vellucci and
Peterson, compare the youngster to…you guessed it, Mike Modano. But,
it’s extremely high praise, considering what Modano accomplished, both
in Michigan youth hockey and in the NHL with the Dallas Stars.

“He was a dominant player from the first time he stepped on the ice,”
says DeBoer. “He was a 50-goal scorer, an MVP as a rookie, and that’s
the first time in a couple decades that that has happened.”

DeBoer firmly believes that Legwand is on the same kind of path as
Modano-the path to greatness.

But, surely there are parts of Legwand’s game that need tweaking. The
Predators’ Peterson says it really goes back to the way Legwand was used
to playing at the junior level.

“Up here in the NHL you have to learn to play two ways, which David is
doing,” says Peterson. “Back in juniors you basically give a guy like
David the puck and let him go.”

Peterson says Legwand has learned to compete every night and become
more consistent. Offensive and defensive continuity, combined inside a
player, is something Legwand knows too that he must continue to improve
upon.

“I know here at this level that the scoring won’t always be there,”
says Legwand, the Predators very first draft selection in franchise
history and the very first first-rounder to play for Nashville. “I’m
trying to become more solid in my own zone, mainly become a better
all-around player.”

Legwand, who made his Nashville Predators’ debut in April 1999, says he
is not intimidated playing against some of the greatest stars’ in the
game, like Peter Forsberg of Colorado, Steve Yzerman of the Red Wings or
even Modano. Legwand handles the idea of playing against those
giants-giants that he certainly looks up to-as just other players on the
ice whom he has to play against.

“It’s not intimidating,” says Legwand. “We’re all in the same league.
It’s not like you look over your shoulder and say, ‘Wow, there’s Steve
Yzerman.'”

Legwand does say however, that the size and speed of the NHL certainly
opened his eyes from day one and is the impetus for him to improve.

“At each level, guys get stronger and better and here they’re older,”
he says. “It doesn’t come right away, but eventually you get there,”
says the budding superstar, drawing comparisons with himself to stars
such as former Soo Greyhounds’ star Joe Thornton (now with the Boston
Bruins) and even Modano.

Still, it was all those experiences growing up in youth hockey circles
in Michigan, that helped him get to this point and will propel him
further.

“I had a great time growing up, playing pee-wee and had a good run at a
lot of those levels,” says Legwand. “I even keep up with some of my old
teammates.”

Legwand is proud of where he came from, where he grew up and he doesn’t
forget who helped him along. And we won’t forget how good he really is.