Brett Leason has always stood out on the hockey rink. At a mammoth
six-foot-four and 200 pounds and still a teenager, he’s hard to overlook
based purely on physical stature.
But over the last year it’s his skills and what he’s doing with that size
on the ice that’s attracting more attention.
As a member of Canada’s National Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior
Championship, Leason is undoubtedly enjoying a genesis in his junior hockey
It was just over 14 months ago when the Tri-City Americans dealt the
strapping forward to the Prince Albert Raiders for a third-round pick in
the WHL Bantam Draft.
As an 18-year-old at the time, Leason was mired on the Americans’ depth
chart behind a seasoned group of veteran forwards, making opportunity and
ice time difficult to garner.
His expendability became a blessing and the trade a jumping off point to
restart his aspirations in the game.
“It’s been a breakout year for me,” says Leason, now 19, and an important
part of Team Canada’s desire for consecutive gold medals at the World
Juniors. “In Tri-City, I was buried behind older, experienced guys. When I
got to P.A., I got a fresh start and was able to build up from that.”
To call this season a “breakout year” might be understating it just a
little, and the numbers back that up.
In his first 135 WHL games with the Americans and Raiders, the Calgary
product scored just 24 times. In 31 games this season, he’s totaled 28
goals and 64 points, including points in each of his first 30 games.
“This jump from last year to this year has been really significant,” says
Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen. “The way he plays with the purpose he
has. There haven’t been any lulls from the start of the season. He’s been
as consistent a CHL player as any.”
After being passed over in the NHL draft the past two summers and knowing
he was on the outside looking in at the World Juniors, Leason realized it
was time to change a few things in his off-season routine.
He worked hard last summer to improve things like overall strength and puck
control, but the biggest area of focus was foot speed and quickness “to get
the extra step on my speed,” he says.
“I’ve known (Brett) from his Bantam days right through,” says McEwen. “He’s
improved his skating. He’s gotten himself to be quicker and he’s learned to
use his size more productively.”
Leason has made the most of his opportunities; his hot start earned him a
spot on the Team WHL roster for the CIBC Canada-Russia Series in November,
and he was one of the best players on the ice in the two games.
That earned him an invitation to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek
Selection Camp in early December, and his performance there further proved
he belonged on Team Canada.
“We’re always looking at the start of the year to track players,” says
McEwen “And if there’s individuals that you start to follow from the start
of the year and you think there’s some things about his game that would be
good for us then you pursue that avenue.”
“For me, (the Russian series) was one of the tipping points. His game kept
Leason’s ascending development this season can also be traced to his WHL
team. The Raiders are the No. 1-ranked team in the CHL with an impressive
33-3-0-1 record, which certainly attributes to players like him building
confidence and setting no ceiling for success.
“He’s on a really good team,” says McEwen. “And when he’s had success early
like they’ve had, his confidence went through the roof. It’s just kept
building and building.”
In reality, nobody should be really surprised about Leason’s rise in the
game. He was always a standout through his minor hockey days in and around
Calgary. But the moniker of ‘late bloomer’ does seem to apply here.
“That’s a legitimate comment for sure,” McEwen says. “It takes time to get
everything going the same way sometimes. When you look at his younger
years, he was able to produce offence and now that things have grown
together you see he’s getting into spots to use his skill set and size. As
bigger kid, it took a little longer for him to fill into his body at the
Major Junior level.”
His experience looks similar to that of Tanner Pearson, another undrafted
player who came out of nowhere to make Team Canada in 2012, won bronze and
ended up as a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings the following
Leason would be happy to follow that path when his final draft comes around
this summer (in Vancouver, ironically), even if he’s not looking that far
into the future.
“I want to have the best year I can to help set myself up for the future,”
he says. “You can’t think about [the draft] too much. It’s something I want
to prove, but I just go out and play every day to prove that.”
And undoubtedly a solid performance at the World Juniors would certainly
help continue to increase his value among NHL scouts.
“This is a big step in my hockey career,” he admits. “Coming into last
year, I would have never expected to be here.”