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THE BREAKOUT KID

A motivated Brett Leason made some serious noise last year after being passed over in the draft - again

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

BUFFALO - Recent history could be in the making.

It's rare for a player passed over in a previous draft to foster first-round potential following year.

Rarer still to see someone painted in that category passed over twice.

Thing is, when you have the kind of breakout season that Calgary native and Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason enjoyed, you're sure to turn heads, regardless of age.

 

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"I didn't see it coming," he said. "I don't think anyone did. I didn't really do too much (the year before) and no one expected much out of me.

"It just kinda happened."

"I was motivated. Had a big summer, I trained hard and I think I (grew) into my body. That helped me improve on lots of the small factors in my game, and it all came together this year."

And how.

Leason, who had just 32 points (15G, 17A) in 54 games the year prior, broke out in a big way, leading the Raiders to their first WHL Championship in 34 years with 36 goals and 89 points in 55 regular-season games, before adding another 25 points (10G, 15A) in 22 playoff tilts.

The 6-foot-4, 200 lb. right-winger plays a gritty game in all three zones, has a powerful, big-body presence, and took big strides in improving his top-end speed by focusing on that aspect of his development last off-season.

 

 

"It was a big step," Leason said. "But I still want to improve on all parts of my game.

"I can definitely improve on my strength and just be more at that NHL-ready level."

Leason, who represented Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship - scoring five points (3G, 2A) in five games - is the No. 25-ranked North American skater. He spent parts of the past two years with the Raiders, after beginning his WHL career in Tri-City, breaking into the league on the same team as Flames defenceman Juuso Valimaki.

The gifted goal-scorer met with 27 teams including the Flames at the Combine, but is understandably glad this nerve-wracking portion of his draft journey is over.

 

Video: Calgary native Brett Leason speaks at the Combine

 

"It starts off good with all the interviews," Leason said. "It's good to see how teams view you; get to know them, get to meet them. The last few days are ones everybody dreads, but I had a great experience here."

It's been a whirlwind week, to put it mildly. His WHL campaign ending less than two weeks ago, Leason has had very little downtime to reflect on the season - and one heckuva rollercoaster career - in the 'Dub.

But he knows, deep down, he left a lasting impression, both on the ice and in the community, for the organization that believed in him from the start.

Now, he's hoping to give back once more and make them proud next month at the NHL Draft.

 

 

"It was great," Leason said of his career as a Raider. "When I first got there, they gave me a chance to play.

"It's a great hockey town, a great community and we're really involved with the community lots, and they hadn't won in a long time - so to get that WHL Championship back in Prince Albert, it's an amazing feeling and an amazing year.

"It wasn't the finish we wanted [in the Memorial Cup], but you learn a lot from small tournaments like that. And by that time, I think we were just out of gas and didn't have much more to give."

Knowing that, he leaves proud - that in the most important season of his career, he left it all out there.

If Leason is chosen in the first month next month, he'll join Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Pearson as the only other CHL player with the distinction of being drafted after being passed over twice.

A storyline, sure, but not the story of Leason's incredible turnaround.

"Haven't really thought too much about that," he said.

"I'm just playing the sport I love, focusing every day on trying to get better."

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