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Almost Ready

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs

The list of American Hockey League trained players who had to apprentice at that level for at least three seasons before moving up to the NHL is lengthy.

Veteran Brad Boyes says his three seasons spent in the AHL taught him how to play the game.

Shawn Thornton played in 605 AHL games before securing full time NHL employment and eventually two Stanley Cups.

So for Josh Leivo, who has played two seasons with the Toronto Marlies and will likely spend another with the Leafs' farm club, it's a learning process and a natural rite of passage.

"It's a great league, obviously you see a lot of NHL players come out of this league," said Leivo. "I realize it takes time, I truly understand that, so I've got to keep my head up, stay positive, and work my way up to that next level."

"I know I can play in the NHL, it's just a matter of time."

Leivo was selected by the Leafs in the third round of the 2011 Draft despite not even being ranked by Central Scouting. He'd just emerged from a spectacular playoff run with the Sudbury Wolves, recording 13 points in eight games, and played a key role in a first round upset of the favoured Ottawa 67's.

Two seasons later he made the Leafs out of training camp and played seven games, scoring his first NHL goal against Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes.

He was eventually sent to the Marlies that fall, thriving on both left and right wings and playing on lines with Trevor Smith, Spencer Abbott, Greg McKegg and Sam Carrick.

Leivo scored 23 goals that season to become the first Marlie rookie to eclipse the 20-goal plateau in franchise history.

"I think Spotter (former Marlies head coach Steve Spott) believed in me. He played me in every situation, giving me plenty of opportunity on a phenomenal team," said Leivo. "We bonded well as a group, and I think the chemistry just clicked with everybody. It was such a fun season."

Last season was anything but for Leivo. Call it a sophomore jinx or simply bad luck but a shoulder injury hampered him most of the year, limiting his output to just 11 goals.

"I don't want to make excuses, but it did get to me," said Leivo. "There were times I was a little scared going into the corners when I initially got back. But I thought I improved at the end of the season and into the playoffs."

"I had a great summer, I'm healthy and ready to regroup."

Whether it be Mike Babcock or Sheldon Keefe, Leivo is about to play for a third head coach in as many pro seasons. It's all about proving himself yet again with the ultimate goal of landing a permanent job with the Maple Leafs.

"I just want to be a consistent two-way player, produce every game and hopefully I can get to the NHL sooner than later," said Leivo. "I know the AHL is a good league and it's going to help me develop into a complete NHL player when that time comes."

At age 22 and in the final year of his entry level contract, the Innisfil, Ont., native is intent on making that happen. It just may require a little more seasoning on a talented Marlie team before this homegrown product finally reaches full maturity.

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