Montreal’s search for someone who can provide offence and speed to complement Shea Weber may not be as far away as many think.
Perhaps there is not as urgent a need to trade for that elusive left defenceman after all, Perhaps that left defenceman is playing in Laval.
Yes; it is early, but that is as much to Otto Leskinen’s advantage as to his disadvantage, considering he has played less than a dozen games in North America, and he looks to be adapting at an impressive rate.
As was mentioned in my very first rookie game report from Belleville, Leskinen’s skating and puck skills were evident as soon as he hit the ice; he was a step above the other prospects in the tournament in that regard, with the exception of Erik Brannstrom, a player chosen 15th overall in the 2017 NHL draft. Not bad for a defencmean never drafted in the NHL.
What wasn’t quite as evident at the rookie tournament was Leskinen’s ability to produce offence, and I wondered at the time if it may just be a matter of him needing time to adapt to the rink size and gaining enough confidence to take charge of the play.
That looks to already be happening in the AHL, as Leskinen picked up two more assists last night, bringing his season total to four.
Any time you can average an assist a game, you are making a difference, and Leskinen was certainly a difference maker last night; he was the best player on the ice. The same could be argued about his previous game as well on Saturday versus Milwaukee.
What that also tells us is that there may be more upside to this mobile defender than was perhaps first expected. The pass he made to Charles Hudon yesterday required elite NHL-type skill and vision:
Equally impressive was the juke he made a few moments earlier at Rockford’s blueline that left at least one defender helpless and led to a solid scoring opportunity.
We are seeing the skill that enabled Leskinen to finish sixth in FHL defenceman scoring as a 21-year-old, and while his defence won’t likely be earning him time on the top pk unit any time soon, his mobility makes him difficult to beat one-on-one. He even played with a bit of jam away from the puck yesterday; crosschecking a couple of players in the crease area just hard enough not to be penalized, with one late exception when he ended up in the box.
If Leskinen keeps improving while Mete’s struggles continue, it won’t be long before Leskinen gets a callup to have an audition, perhaps even with Shea Weber. He may be the left defenceman playing pro hockey with the Habs that complements Weber’s game the best if he can handle NHL forwards in his own zone. It is also not an impossibility that he could help Montreal’s power play; he is very elusive laterally, and there is a distinct possibility that he passes the puck better than Reilly, Kulak and Mete.
Cale Fleury has now sat out three straight games, which is less than ideal for a 20-year-old defenceman. He needs to play, so look for him to be sent down soon. The attractive part of this equation is that neither has to clear waivers, so it is a seamless transaction.
Brett Kulak played well with Jeff Petry last season for the most part; in fact, he helped to stabilize Petry’s game when he was acquired. They looked solid again as a pair last game when they were finally put together. Here is a top six that we may possibly see some time in the next month or so when Juulsen is ready to be recalled, and it may just work:
Send Mete to Laval when Juulsen is ready, and let Folin and Reilly be the extra defencemen. That may be a pretty solid six…obviously, a lot will depend on Leskinen’s play. I have to say though; so far, I have been pleasantly surprised. He has talent, and plenty of it.