After being told by the Carolina Hurricanes
that he was on his own to find a goaltender for the 2008-09 season, Florida Everblades coach Malcolm Cameron did his due diligence and narrowed it down to two goalies.
One of them was David Leggio
, a 24-year-old Buffalo native who was coming off an impressive four-year run with Clarkson University. The other was Jean-Philippe Lamoreux, who is in the midst of a phenomenal campaign with the Alaska Aces. Just when Cameron was about to make a difficult decision, the Hurricanes made it awfully easy for him -- they signed Leggio to a two-way deal between the Everblades and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Albany River Rats.
Truth be told, Cameron couldn't have gone wrong with either one. But Leggio has been everything both the Everblades and Hurricanes could have hoped for. Currently splitting the duties with Anton Khudobin
-- another solid NHL prospect -- Leggio is 10-3-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. He also has recorded two shutouts.
"I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself," Leggio told NHL.com. "I know that just talking to a lot of people, I was going to be put in a very good situation in Florida. It's a successful franchise and I knew Coach Cameron would put together a good team. I think the transition to pro has been easy because the team has been good. There hasn't been a ton of nights where I've been left out to dry."
It indeed has been a solid transition for Leggio from the college ranks to the pro game. But judging by his numbers at Clarkson, there was little doubt that Leggio wasn't going to make an immediate impact at the ECHL level. In his last two seasons with Clarkson, Leggio won 46 games and posted seven shutouts.
"I think my junior year was my biggest year," said Leggio, who went 24-7-5 with a 2.16 GAA. "That seemed like the year where everything came together for us. Going into senior year was the first year where we were the favorites. People knew who we were. We had a good core of players. I think to be part of a winning tradition just kind of taught me how to carry myself and how to work hard. The coaches there did a great job of preparing the guys to move on and how to be professionals. Without that, I don't think I'd have any chance of doing what I am now."
What Leggio is doing is helping the Everblades in their cause to win a very heated South Division. The loss of the Augusta Lynx has only strengthened the division, as teams gobbled up those free agents. Heading into Thursday's action, the Everblades are 21-8-2, one point ahead of the South Carolina Stingrays for the division lead. The Stingrays visit Gwinnett on Thursday.
"Our entire division is really strong," Leggio said. "Augusta's out, and Gwinnett picked up some players from Fresno. We just played Charlotte four times in a row, and they are a great team. South Carolina's right on our tail. Every game we play now is very intense. You can't take any nights off. There's no team in our division that you can just go through the motions with."
Of course, having two quality goaltenders helps. Cameron certainly has a nice little problem on his hands, having the choice between Leggio and Khudobin, who had a 1.98 GAA in 27 games for Cameron's Texas Wildcatters a season ago. This time around, the 22-year-old is 11-5-1 with a 2.73 GAA.
"David's a very confident individual," Cameron said. "He and Anton have two totally different styles. I think they're both mentally strong people who rely upon themselves. Goaltenders are a different breed. They have a very good chemistry together, and neither one of them is jealous of each other.
"Anton was Goalie of the Year last year, and he's some American League experience. He's a good prospect and he's only a second-year pro. It's a very good friendly rivalry. They both want to be in the net and they push each other in practice."
Unlike Khudobin, Leggio had a brief look at the AHL level this season. It didn't go very well. In his first start at the Triple-A level, Leggio allowed seven goals on 33 shots. He was returned to Florida, where he's currently working hard to put himself in a position to get another opportunity with Albany.
"It was pretty unfortunate," Leggio admitted. "That was my first AHL start, and I allowed seven goals. The first goal was in the first minute. It was just one of those nights where it seemed like nothing was really going our way. Those happen. The coaches told me not to really dwell on it too much -- just to keep working hard. I think if that happened in start seven or right, it would have been no big deal. That was pretty disappointing to have that happen in my first start."
Upon his return to Florida, Cameron quickly put his arm around Leggio and told him to shrug it off. After all, it takes 20 guys to lose a hockey game.
"I think he likes being a part of our team. He's very much a team guy. He's got great team spirit. He's got a very addictive personality, and for a coach, he's a real pleasure to be around every single day."
-- Florida coach Malcolm Cameron
"He might have been the victim of circumstance," Cameron said. "I think he likes being a part of our team. He's very much a team guy. He's got great team spirit. He's got a very addictive personality, and for a coach, he's a real pleasure to be around every single day."
Cameron believes the biggest obstacle that Leggio has had to overcome in his rookie season is adjusting to a much more hectic schedule. During his time at Clarkson, Leggio never appeared in more than 38 games. He's well on his way to eclipsing that mark in his first year as a pro.
"Sometimes, college players in general get to the pro level and they end up hitting somewhat of a midseason wall," Cameron said. "They kind of tend to crash because they're not used to the schedule of a pro season, whereas the major junior kids are. So maybe that was it -- all the travel and all the games. The four-year college environment is pretty settled. But over the last couple of weeks, he's really given us some great goaltending."
And if that continues, Leggio may just get another opportunity in New York's capital city. No doubt, he's determined to redeem himself and prove to the Hurricanes that they made the right move by signing him.
"Absolutely," Leggio responded when asked if he hopes to get another look in the AHL this season. "I'm on a two-way with Albany, and my next goal is to be in the American League. I want to go as far as I can with hockey, and I'm just doing whatever I can to be successful down here. I'm hoping I can get another shot this year and hopefully show them that that wasn't the goaltender that I am."
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.