You hear the phrase “late bloomer” tossed around for players who took a few years to really put things together, but it’s rare that a player can be considered a late bloomer for the National Hockey League draft itself. After being passed over the first two years he was eligible, Brett Leason is looking to be noticed as said late bloomer at the 2019 NHL Draft, and may just become a first round pick because of it.
He’s big and he’s local, as Calgary born-and-raised Leason measures up at 6’4″ and just over 200 pounds. Plagued throughout his career in junior hockey by his skating, he seems to have made notable strides over the 2018 summer in that area, and is now skating at a desirable level for an NHLer. He’ll never progress to become a speed demon on the ice, but it shows a lot of character that Leason was able to negate his biggest weakness coming into his last year in the Western Hockey League.
Leason, a right-handed centre, is able to use his body effectively, as he’s known for making plays both along the boards and in front of the net. He can shoot, he can tip, he can pass, and he can get open, all of which bode well for his offensive game. Scouts have talked about his hockey IQ, which should help him to continue to develop into a complete 200 foot player. He projects to be a power forward, although maybe it would be fairer to say a poor man’s power forward.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Leason next year, if he plateaus where he is now or is able to keep building momentum and really reward whichever team ends up drafting him, be it in the first or second round.
Corey Pronman of The Athletic had this to say about Leason (paywall):
“He’s not a highlight reel player by any means, but he has decent puck skills and can create offense with very good vision. He’s aware of his surroundings and can put pucks into seams. The biggest reason for Leason’s jump as a prospect was his skating. It improved from poor to potentially above-average. He can turn the corner occasionally on defensemen. Leason’s skating tests well, but in-game, his pace is very average. He’s big and strong, showing good puck protection skills. He’s not overly physical but competes well.”
Bill Placzek, writing for DraftSite, agreed that there’s a lot to like about Leason skating issues aside:
“Sure, he needs to get faster add [sic] a quicker burst in the first step, which will help him to loose pucks, but he has super-soft hands, really excellent vision and a big strong shot. He is a big physical specimen that plays with physicality down low, and has the agility to shake loose, pivot and get shots off with defenders cemented to him. He has East-west elusiveness, and when he gets moving, he is difficult to derail. Display [sic] excellent vision and a hard heavy shot that he delivers in stride. Has gone from a long shot to a name that will be called in June.”
It very much seems as though Leason could join just Tanner Pearson as the only CHL players to be passed over twice in the draft, only to become a first rounder in their third year of eligibility. If you had told Leason that back in September, he likely would have been thrilled. However, now the question is what happens next?
Leason toiled away as a depth player for his first few years in the WHL, failing to turn heads with the Tri-City Americans. He was traded to the Prince Albert Raiders last season where things started to pick up for him, but not enough to get his name called at the 2018 draft. Then, everything changed with the 2018-19 season.
He exploded on the scoresheet, averaging over two points per game in his first 31 games. That was enough to earn him a sport on Canada’s World Junior Championship roster, where he picked up five points in five games before Canada’s overtime loss to Finland in the quarterfinals. Slowed down by a hand injury in the latter half of the season, he was still contributing to the Raiders, ending his year with 36 goals and 89 points in just 55 games.
Leason would continue to be effective throughout the playoffs, earning 25 points in 22 games as Prince Albert went on to win the WHL championship. Alas, that would be the end of the line for Leason and the Raiders, as they would respectively see zero points and zero wins in the Memorial Cup.
Availability and fit
It would not be a stretch to see the Flames take Leason with the 26th overall selection. Just like their NHL roster, their prospect pool has more left-handers than righties, and it could be fun drafting a hometown kid in the first round. General manager Brad Treliving has drafted high from the WHL before, so it would be within character to dip into that well again.
It might be tempting to draft him and see how he’ll do in the American Hockey League next year, alongside a player like Glenn Gawdin, who knows a thing or two about being a late bloomer. Leason could provide immediate help for the farm team, which is something that may make him more appealing than other first round picks.
He’s projected to be either a late first round or early second round pick, so we’ll see come June 21 if he’ll jump into the top 31, or have to settle with being called on later. For a player that was passed over in the previous 14 rounds, it’s hard to imagine that a 15th would dampen his spirits too much.
2019 first round targets