Brendan Leipsic probably isn’t the person you want with you in the quiet section of a commuter train. He likes noise – both on the ice in his role as a winger with the Toronto Marlies, and off of it as one of the players in charge of music in the dressing room – and he’s making a name for himself in many ways in his first full year with the Maple Leafs organization.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Leipsic is driven to make sure his presence is being felt in Toronto, and as the 2015-16 season unfolds, he’s doing a bang-up job of it.
“He’s a vocal guy,” said Marlies centre and Leipsic’s road roommate Sam Carrick. “He likes to always be talking, and I think that helps a lot with the guys he’s playing with. His skill speaks for itself, and he’s not the biggest guy, but he plays a lot bigger than he is. And he doesn’t back down from anyone on the other team. He’s always chirping and trying to get guys off their game, and I think that boosts the whole team when he does stuff like that.”
That said, the season didn’t begin well for the 21-year-old. After he was acquired by the Leafs in February as part of the trade that sent defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to Nashville, Leipsic moved from the American League’s Milwaukee Admirals (for whom he had seven goals and 36 points in 47 games) to the Marlies, amassing seven goals and 19 points in 27 games for Toronto to close out 2014-15. Unfortunately, the Winnipeg native didn’t last long at Maple Leafs training camp this fall, and didn’t play in any Marlies preseason games.
However, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe said that, once Leipsic settled in, his game improved by leaps and bounds.
“He got off to a slow start, and certainly, part of that could be attributed to being cut from Leafs camp early,” Keefe said of Leipsic. “Early on, there were definitely some concerning things with his game – he was turning the puck over a lot, not getting the offensive zone and entering with possession as much as a player like himself is capable of doing. But we’ve been on him, talked to him, shown him a lot of video, and the game seems to be opening up for him here of late. His confidence seems to be high, and I’ve really liked how he’s worked away from the puck, too."
"When we watch our clips back, he’s one of the guys who’s always showing up in terms of extra effort on the backcheck, moving his feet and tracking well. We’ve been really happy with where his game’s at right now.”
Indeed, with five goals and 14 points in 23 games for the Marlies this season, Leipsic is starting to hit his stride. And he credits some changes to his game with his reversal of fortune.
“I didn’t have the start to the season that I wanted to,” he said, “but I feel I’m moving my feet a little bit more with the puck and without the puck, and I’m trying to shoot the puck a little bit more. And I think I can play a little bit more on the edge. I’m a smaller guy, but I play with a lot of energy. When I play on the edge, that’s when I’m most effective. I like to create offensive chances and use my speed and my skill, but playing hard is another part of my game.”
When he’s not at the rink, Leipsic can be found watching movies or TV (he’s currently into The Walking Dead and Ray Donovan, and finished Breaking Bad a while back), and he’s the Marlies’ dressing room DJ on the road (goalie Garret Sparks usually chooses songs for home games), playing rap, techno and a wide assortment of music designed to pump up himself and his teammates.
While he likes a variety of experiences outside of professional hockey, he tries to take the good and bad of the pro game with the same attitude. That’s what he’d tell any player who’s been traded for the first time and starting over with a new organization.
“Be ready for anything, pretty much,” Leipsic said when asked what advice he’d give young players. “There’s going to be a lot of things thrown at you. There’s going to be a lot of ups and a lot of downs in your pro career. There certainly has been in mine: there’s times when I’ve gone on a good points streak and times I haven’t had a point in 10 games. So try to stay even-keel and do what got you here.”
As of early December, Leipsic was again doing the things that made him Nashville’s third-round pick (89th overall) in the 2012 draft, and the things Toronto wanted when they acquired him. He’s got the skill to make plays – he was the Canadian League’s top scorer in 2012-13 when he registered 120 points for the Western League’s Portland Winterhawks – and he’s got the swagger and competitiveness that make him an especially tough opponent.
Nobody will ever mistake him for a mime, but he’s making noise in the best of ways.
“He’s a guy that’s alive on the bench, and the other team knows that he’s out there,” Keefe said of Leipsic. “You like that part of his game. You try to manage it and make sure he doesn’t cross the line, and it’s not a distraction for him or our team. But certainly, he likes that part of the game. I think it drives his competitive spirit, and it’s a lot easier to tolerate and embrace when he’s playing the way he is, because he’s been outstanding here of late.”