Currently in his third season of hockey at the professional level – the final year of his entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization – forward Josh Leivo has appeared in NHL games with the Leafs in each of his three seasons, but each time has found himself back in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies.
After being reassigned to the Marlies just before the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic in Syracuse and participating in the two-day event, Leivo posted four assists in two games following the break and was subsequently called back up to the NHL. Is this the time that Leivo sticks in the NHL full-time?
While in the AHL with the Marlies, Leivo has been a part of one of the most dominating teams in the league’s history. The 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers team holds the AHL’s record for most points in a season with 124 points in 80 games (.775 winning percentage). Through 53 games this season, the 2015-16 Toronto Marlies have 84 points (.792 winning percentage).
“We’re just finding ways to put the puck in the net,” Leivo said of the Marlies’ strong team play this season. “We’re getting some good chances here and there, and the players we have on our team and our skill, it makes it a lot easier when you’re playing with a lot of skill. We found a lot of chemistry with each other so it’s just been a good year all around, and hopefully we could keep moving forward.”
Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe echoed Leivo’s sentiments about the team’s success so far this season.
“Talent is a big part of it,” Keefe said. “We have a real good, young group that’s complemented well by some very good veterans that are difference makers for us defensively. That kind of depth has carried us to this point.”
Leivo has often been on a line with William Nylander, and the duo was deadly earlier in the season. The Leafs’ third round pick in 2011 has steadily improved his game each season. This season, Leivo has been a point-per-game player with 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists) in 38 AHL games. What has made him more NHL-ready is his improvement away from the puck, as he has rounded out his game to a more NHL-friendly, 200-foot style of play.
“Over the last six weeks or so, Josh’s game has really been good,” Keefe said during the AHL All-Star break. “He’s extremely confident and that earned him a call-up to the Leafs. He’s a guy we think is making a name for himself.”
Leivo is hoping, like his peers, to develop into a full-time NHL player and two-way forward who can contribute in all areas of the ice, both offensively and defensively. With his contract up after this season, the time is now to leave a lasting impression.
“For sure, you want to end on a good note and I think that’s what I’ve been doing so far,” Leivo said. “I don’t want to think too much of it, but I just have to keep playing the way I have been playing and hopefully keep showing [I belong] both on and off the ice.”
As always, there are certain aspects of his game that need to be better if Leivo wants to make the jump to the NHL full-time. His coach in the AHL made it pretty clear which areas needed improvement.
“Finding a level of consistency is the first thing for him,” Keefe said of Leivo. “Continue to work on his skating and getting stronger, and being as prepared as possible for whenever the recalls come.”
Leivo is currently in the midst of his latest opportunity to stick with the Maple Leafs after rejoining the NHL club back on February 8th. After scoring a goal in back-to-back games, Leivo spent nearly two weeks on injured reserve before being activated and inserted back into the lineup for Tuesday’s game against Nashville.
“You hope for an opportunity and then take it,” Keefe said. “The Leafs are in a spot where they are waiting and wanting people to take advantage of their opportunities and take someone’s job, so Josh has to make sure he’s ready when his chance comes.”
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