Joey LaLeggia dreams of skating on National Hockey League ice. The Bakersfield Condors player always assumed - if he did make it to The Show - it would be as a defenceman. That's been the position he played for the better part of his career. Although, the Oilers fifth-round (123rd-overall) pick in the 2012 NHL Draft is amenable to whatever changes it takes to get an audition.
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So, when Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming approached him at a morning skate in Tucson, Ariz., before Christmas asking if he could play forward - left wing, specifically - to help the team fill the net, he welcomed it like the determined and honest player he is.
"The first thing you think of typically when you see a defenceman playing forward, it's usually because that guy is the odd man out," LaLeggia said unabashedly.
"That's no secret."
The Condors have a pool of defence prospects and many of them shoot left. Undersized but gifted with an innate passing touch and keen vision on the ice, the 24-year-old has always been an offensive-minded rearguard.
"You have that thought in the back of your head but the fact that ever since I was moved up front, I've been playing in the top six and I've been playing with such great players and I've been getting real great ice time."
And LaLeggia's been able to assist in curbing some of the offensive woes the team previously had. In his 32 games at wing, he's found twine 13 times and dished eight helpers. He's buzzed around the net and remained consistent with a rotation of linemates, including Jujhar Khaira and Josh Currie. He's been deployed with the top two lines and is currently generating with Anton Lander and Jesse Puljujarvi. On the season, LaLeggia has 15 goals and 28 points in 54 games.
The transition has been smooth and that could be because LaLeggia played a handful of games at wing last season. It may have been daunting, to go from an area of relative comfort to a new position full-time on the fly, but the University of Denver alumnus' unfaltering character and outlook on the situation helped him prevail.
"It was more in the sense of, am I going to let this end my career?" said LaLeggia. "There are a couple different ways of looking at it but I'm not one to give up."
Having the wherewithal to be a utility player - pivoting backward from the blueline or attacking it - is an advantage not only for LaLeggia and his future but for the Condors, too. LaLeggia's flexibility has been used in all situations this season. He's been doled out in many ways all over the ice which presents benefits for Fleming.
"We use Joey on the power play on the point," said Fleming. "We use him in 3-on-3 situations and overtime on the back end. As a coaching staff, to have that versatility with one of your players that can contribute on both sides is nothing but a bonus."
It's also telling of LaLeggia's integrity.
"That speaks volumes to his character and the type of person he is," said Fleming. "The willingness to put the team in front of his own personal needs and do what's best for the organization and for the team - I can't speak enough good things about what he did and how it helped both parties."
LaLeggia can also provide support should injuries arise on either side of the ice. Given his production at forward this season, it appears he's doing just fine with the challenge Fleming presented him.
"He's taken to it well and his point production is on a great pace this year," said the Condors head coach. "Hopefully he can just grow and adapt and feel more comfortable playing up front."
It makes no difference to LaLeggia what position he plays. Square him up at the side of the faceoff circle and he'll produce. Place him on the back end and he'll gladly make the first pass of the breakout. Strap some pads to his legs and he'll - most likely - courageously eat shots. It doesn't matter.
If it continues his dream of becoming an NHL player, he'll do it. It's quite simple: LaLeggia wants the NHL and will play anywhere to get there.
"If I can play in the NHL as a winger, to me, that's the same as playing in the NHL as a defenceman," he said. "That's my goal and I'm not going to give up, I'm going to keep trying to get better. Keep trying to prove myself wherever I'm playing.
"Doesn't matter where I'm playing, I just want to make that happen."
LaLeggia and the Condors are currently fifth in the American Hockey League's Pacific Division based on points percentage with a 26-23-5-1 record through 55 games.