VANCOUVER -- Brett Leason, a forward who played this season for Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League, received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence at Rogers Arena prior to the start of the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft presented by adidas on Saturday.
The award, presented by NHL Central Scouting in honor of the late McGuire, is given to the candidate who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.
"Never would have expected an award of that magnitude," Leason said. "Kind of makes sense, my story, everything that's happened over the years, commitment to the game, dedication to improve. It's very special to receive that honor."
Leason, who went undrafted in the 2017 NHL Draft and 2018 NHL Draft, was selected in the second round (No. 56) by the Washington Capitals in the 2019 NHL Draft.
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"It's a special night. Any time you get drafted its really special. I have to cherish it," Leason said. "The third time through I was looking forward, hoping my name would be picked and it has.
"It feels great. One of those days you come, you want to get drafted, just keep waiting and waiting and getting picked by the Capitals means a lot."
McGuire was director of NHL Central Scouting for seven years before dying of cancer in April 2011. A coach at the collegiate, junior and American Hockey League levels, an assistant for three NHL teams during 12 seasons and a scout for two teams, McGuire began serving as director of Central Scouting in 2005.
"This award encompasses the best traits of our game and the recipient this year portrays these core attributes having displayed the type of dedication, motivation and passion that is required to improve both on and off the ice in pursuing the goal of playing in the National Hockey League," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said.
"In Brett Leason, you have a player who has persevered through going undrafted, being traded, playing through injury, yet all the while continuing to apply himself to improve and be the best he could be which resulted in a spot on Canada's World Junior Championship team, a WHL championship with the Prince Albert Raiders and positioning himself to be selected in the 2019 NHL Draft."
In addition to receiving the award, Leason will receive a copy of EA Sports NHL 20 when the game becomes available on Sept. 13.
After going undrafted last year, the 20-year-old worked a landscaping job but disliked it and quickly returned to the ice to get back to work.
His improved skating and renewed confidence played a big part in his success for the Raiders this season. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right wing had 89 points (36 goals, 53 assists) and 10 game-winning goals in 55 games for Prince Albert. He ranked second in the league with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 22 WHL playoff games.
"Leason worked on his skating and there's a noticeable change this year, in his speed and quickness," John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. "He was always a big guy with good hands, size, and reach -- a combination that makes him really hard to handle. He has a quick, heavy shot and can beat you in tight or from distance."
Leason was able to take advantage of more ice time in a prominent role after his trade to Prince Albert by Tri-City on Oct. 25, 2017. He's scored 121 points (51 goals, 70 assists) in 109 games with Prince Albert after scoring 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 81 games during parts of three seasons with Tri-City.
"When he came over, I think the biggest thing for us was we just wanted him to play the way he was comfortable and that was by skating and puck-handling and not running guys through the boards, but making a hit when it's there," Prince Albert coach Marc Habscheid said. "He's very intelligent so we just wanted him to do the things that were successful for him through minor hockey."
Leason was No. 25 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.
"People questioned his skating but he's adapted to the new style of game in that he tries to do everything fast," Habscheid said. "In the NHL, the difference between a 28- and 30-year-old is nothing. The difference between 17 and 20 is big because kids mature at different times and Brett was just a late bloomer."
Leason, who can also play center, finished second in the CHL Top Prospects Game on-ice testing in January. He was first in weave agility, weave agility with puck, and 30-meter forward skate.
"The coaches in Prince Albert have trusted me and they played me in all scenarios, letting me do my thing," Leason said. "It's funny how anything can change in an instant, so you just have to battle every day, work your hardest and good things can happen. I'm grateful for this chance."
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