A glimpse of greatness
There are glimpses of greatness that rush through our mind every time we see or think about certain young players. For me, a player like that is Calgary Flames defenseman Jordan Leopold.
Listening to Flames coach Darryl Sutter talk about how his team needs his 23-year-old defenseman to step up and make an impact before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and you'd think that Leopold was just biding his time, occupying space on the blue line for more than 20 minutes a night. Far from it.
But the glimpse I remember is of Leopold as a senior at the University of Minnesota, when he sparked the Golden Gophers to the NCAA title and won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's best player after scoring 20 goals and 28 assists in just 44 regular-season games.
I still swear that if you put a puck on Leopold's stick and give him some time and space to work with, you've got the possibly of one of those glimpses of greatness that I spoke of.
Sometimes you just don't see the whole picture. Just glimpses and in this case, glimpses of skill and talent and the kind of play by a youngster on hockey's center stage.
The problem is most young players don't have the confidence to use those skills every shift when they are just in their second NHL season. It takes time. But with the Stanley Cup on the line, now is the time to push and prod young players, making them realize that with the right impetus -- like playing for the Cup -- they will show you how ready they really are for prime time.
"We just wait and watch for Jordan to show his stuff," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said before the Finals. "He's got the hands of a scoring forward. And the important part of his makeup is he never looks rushed in practice. One of these days, he's just going to emerge and everyone will wonder where this kid came from."
The pep talk by Sutter worked for Game 3 as Leopold helped set up the Flames' first goal and was on the ice for Calgary's other power-play goal by Iginla in a 3-0 victory. In just over 23 minutes of ice time, Leopold was solid if unspectacular, contributing the one assist and playing strong on defense with partner Robyn Regehr as they played 34 shifts -- most of them against the red-hot line of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
"I have to play my game and my role and, I guess, that's skating and moving pucks and making plays," Leopold said before the Finals, sporting a thick, red beard that looked better on him that many of the older veterans on the Flames.
Still, when playing for a taskmaster like Sutter, you know you have to put in your work on defense first. The offensive part of your game is always there once you have made your impression in the NHL on defense.
That's where we are crossing Jordan's career right now.
What is so puzzling is that we've seen the great offensive skills by Leopold. That's what made an impression on NHL scouts (first pick by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and 44th overall selection in the 1999 Entry Draft) and college hockey fans and earned him a shot at the big stage in his first professional training camp in September of 2003.
But getting to know Jordan Leopold the defenseman first is how the Golden Valley, Minnesota native wants it.
"Some people back home encourage me to skate with the puck like I'm going to have the same kind of impact in this series like Bobby Orr might," Leopold laughed before the Finals. "I just want to be known as a complete player and, to me, that means being better on the defensive end of things first."
It's easy to see why some teammates say he's 23 going on 28 with the patience and poise he displays to them every day.
Former Flames GM Craig Button was so taken by Leopold's skills that he traded giant winger Andrei Nazarov and a second-round draft choice in 2001 to the Mighty Ducks for Leopold's NHL rights in September of 2000. Don't be surprised if in the future this deal is considered one of the steals of the game.
The reason we spend so much time talking about a player who has yet to show off those immense offensive skills is because of the inherent glimpses of talent we see, plus the special personality Leopold brings with him.