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Leopold can go home again

by John McGourty
Hobey Baker Award winner Jordan Leopold is returning the Calgary Flames.

The Colorado Avalanche dealt him back Wednesday in exchange for defenseman Lawrence Nycholat, defensive prospect Ryan Wilson and a second-round draft pick, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, in the 2009 Entry Draft.

"I'm excited. It's a familiar place," Leopold told TSN. "They have had a good team so far this year and it gives me a chance to get back out there and get back into the mix."

Leopold, 28, had 6 goals and 14 assists in 64 Avalanche games this season and was minus-10. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound left-shooting defenseman had 18 penalty minutes and has never had more than 68 in his six NHL seasons.

Leopold has 28 goals and 77 assists in 336 NHL games and is minus-10. He has 14 assists in 40 Stanley Cup Playoff games and is plus-7. Leopold played an important role in Calgary's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, posting 10 assists in 26 games while going plus-5.

He said he is excited about playing again for General Manager Darryl Sutter and playing for the first time for coach Mike Keenan.

"Darryl is a black and white guy. I'm sure Mike is, too," he said. "Those kinds of guys are respected. I've had some good experiences in Calgary. Now we can push forward, get in the playoffs and go from there."

The Golden Valley, Minn., native played four seasons for the University of Minnesota and was named the nation's top collegiate player in 2000 when he led the Golden Gophers to the NCAA title. He was twice named to the WCHA First All-Star Team and twice named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year.

Leopold was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with the No. 44 pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. The Ducks traded his rights the next year to Calgary for Andrei Nazarov and a second-round selection in 2001.

He had 4 goals and 10 assists in 58 games in 2002-03, his rookie season, and improved to 9 goals and 24 assists for 33 points in his second season while going plus-8. He sat out the work-stoppage season and returned with two goals and 18 assists in 2005-06.

The Flames made a blockbuster deal at the 2006 Entry Draft when they packaged Leopold, a second-round pick that year, and another in 2007 for left winger Alex Tanguay. Leopold missed the first 25 games of the 2006-07 season after hernia surgery, then lost 17 games to a groin injury in December. He broke his wrist on Feb. 17, 2007, and played only 15 games that season.

It was more of the same last season when Leopold was limited to 43 games because of hip, leg laceration and concussion problems plus a bout with pneumonia.

"You can't point fingers or do anything," Leopold said of his disappointing tenure in Colorado. "Ultimately, you have to look at yourself in the mirror. I could have done more and the other guys could have done more."

While a trade can be an earth-shattering experience for many players, Leopold said it's not the biggest things in his life recently.

"My wife and I just had a baby two weeks ago. Things are a little complex, so I'm sure when I get there I'll find out my role," he said. "I talked to my wife. We were on a long road trip here in Colorado. We had the baby in Minnesota where we are from. She's back there now. She'll stay there for a little longer. It will be a good two weeks before I see the family again, but that's the nature of the business, too."

Nycholat, 29, spent one day as a member of his hometown Flames. He was acquired on waivers from the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. He has missed 18 games this season and is on injured reserve with a groin problem. The 6-foot, 200-pound left-shooting defenseman has two goals and seven assists for nine points in 45 NHL games over three seasons. He has played with the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators and Canucks.

Nycholat was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Wild in 2000 after four seasons with the Swift Current Broncos and was traded to the Rangers for goalie Johan Holmqvist on March 11, 2003. He signed with the Capitals in 2005 and helped their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, win the 2006 Calder Cup. The Capitals traded him on Feb. 26, 2007, to the Ottawa Senators for Andy Hedlund and a sixth-round pick in 2007.

The Senators traded him to the Canucks last Sept. 2 for Ryan Shannon.

Nycholat has been seen as lacking NHL speed but he is a good student of the game and played an important part in the minor-league grooming of Washington's Mike Green and Ottawa's Brian Lee.

Wilson was signed as a free agent last July 1 after playing three seasons with the Toronto St. Michael's Majors and two with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL. He had previously been invited to the training camps of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007 and the St. Louis Blues in 2006. The Windsor, Ontario, native was named to the OHL's Third All-Star Team for the 2007-08 season. He is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound left-handed shooting defenseman.

Wilson, 22, spent this season with Calgary's AHL affiliate, the Quad City Flames, where he appeared in all 60 games and ranked second among defensemen in scoring with four goals and 16 assists for 20 points.

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