When the Golden Knights announced the team's lineup for Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche, perhaps no player was more excited to be included than Brendan Leipsic.
Leipsic, a forward who has dominated in the AHL the past few seasons in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, was acquired by the Golden Knights in June's Expansion Draft. The 23-year-old's push for the first full-time duty of his NHL career was derailed when he left warmups last Thursday in San Jose with an undisclosed injury.
But now, after missing two contests, Leipsic draws back into the lineup, where he looks to solidify his place on the Golden Knights' Opening Night roster.
"I feel good," Leipsic said. "It was just a minor injury that's kind of nagged on me there. I wanted to be 100 percent when I came back."
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For starters, it's good news for Vegas that Leipsic seems to be 100 percent.
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He had 51 points in 49 games (18G, 33A) with the Toronto Marlies last season and 54 in 65 (20G, 34A) the year before, and is exactly the sort of player that league expansion was supposed to benefit…a player who had clearly outgrown minor league life, whose path to the NHL was blocked by a crowded depth chart ahead of him with the Maple Leafs.
This is why Leipsic was seen as one of the Golden Knights' more significant pickups in June.
That while many players left available in the Expansion Draft were veterans somewhere in the middle of teams' depth charts, Leipsic represented someone young and talented who'd have a chance to be part of Vegas for a long time.
His challenge now is returning to the lineup on Thursday and playing well enough to earn a roster spot, while not trying to do too much. Leipsic is talented, but projects more as a disturber who occasionally contributes offense at the NHL level.
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In other words, he's kind of a little -5-foot-9, 170 pounds- pest. Although a pest that can score.
Leipsic has been compared to being the sort of player Boston Bruins wing Brad Marchand was when he broke into the NHL a decade ago.
"You don't want to go out and try to make something out of nothing and do it all by yourself," Leipsic said. "That's where you get in trouble and turn the puck over. These are all smart players. Once you get in those positions, you just want your skill to take over."
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Coach Gerard Gallant said that despite Leipsic missing a week during a competitive training camp, his staff is comfortable with its knowledge of the player.
Just that it'll be nice to see him in person in a Golden Knights jersey again, after Leipsic hasn't played since September 17's preseason opener in Vancouver.
"Our guys know him pretty well," Gallant said. "He's been hurt for a week, so that definitely doesn't help anything. The scouting staff, George (McPhee) and Kelly (McCrimmon) know him really well. They'll weigh all of those options.
"You're never going to cut a guy because he was injured. But you have to be fair to everybody. They're battling for opportunities, they're battling for spot.
"Every exhibition game, every practice, we're evaluating players."