Sherwood Park, AB - Joey Laleggia had more than one reason to smile after being drafted in the fifth round, 123rd overall by the Oilers nine days ago.
The 20-year-old rearguard was not only assigned to an organization deep in its plans to re-tool the blueline -- providing new and exciting opportunities to the club's up-and-coming youngsters -- but he was also brought back to his roots that were once planted back home in Burnaby, BC.
Laleggia and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins grew up together and were inseparable on the ice (both products of the Vancouver Northwest Giants and Burnaby Winter Club), so it's of little surprise that the Oilers' Rookie of the Year candidate was quick to reach out.
"Obviously we're both from the same hometown and, because of that, we played all through minor hockey together right up to midget (15 and 16-year-olds)," Laleggia said. "From there, we both had to go our separate ways and he ended up moving to go play in Red Deer (WHL), while I stayed in closer to home.
"We've always been good buddies -- he's one of my best friends. He was the second phone call I got right after the Oilers to congratulate me. I was extremely happy and so was he, so it was really nice to share that moment with him."
Nugent-Hopkins also delivered a public shout-out via his Twitter account:
"Huge congrats to my boy, @JLeggy21. Welcome to the Oil."
"He's an awesome kid," Laleggia said of RNH. "For a 19-year-old to be that big of a superstar in the NHL and be so humble, it's really something special. We've always known he'd be that good since we were younger and he's always been like that."
The 5'9", 182-pound blueliner spent parts of three seasons with the BCHL's Penticton Vees. In 2010-11, he cashed 20 goals and 82 points in only 58 regular-season games before rattling off a point-per-game pace in the post-season.
Last year, he debuted in the NCAA with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's University of Denver Pioneers. In 43 games, he scored 11 goals and 38 points while recording 35 penalty minutes. As a result of his efforts, he was named as the National Division 1 Rookie of the Year as voted by the Hockey Commissioners' Association.
It's a nearly identical career path to the recently signed Justin Schultz, who also spent three seasons in the BCHL (Westside Warriors) before making the move to the WHCA's University of Wisconsin Badgers. Comparatively in their rookie seasons, Schultz put up 22 points to Laleggia's 38.
Their BCHL production was on a similar curve as well. Still, Laleggia isn't prepared to declare anything as he's more primarily driven to correct and improve upon some areas in need.
Oilers Development Camp was a good place to work on them.
"I'm not the biggest guy, so I'm always looking to get bigger, stronger and quicker," Laleggia explained. "The coaches worked a lot with us on stick positioning, defensive awareness and things like that. It's basically been a good week of working on the things I needed to take my game to another level, especially when competing against such great players here.
"I couldn't be happier to come to a place like Edmonton. They've put on such a great camp and it's really no surprise considering the great hockey tradition they have here. I couldn't be happier right now and it's a great opportunity.
"It's been awesome."
With so many bodies and highly touted prospects pursuing only a select number of spots on the Oilers' backend, Laleggia knows he'll have to make every opportunity count. As camp wrapped up Monday, an impression was most certainly made.
"You couldn't ask for better players to play with here," he said, agreeing that he still has some work to do before cracking the squad. "Nuge (Nugent-Hopkins), Eberle, Hall, Yakupov and now Schultz coming to the team, it's a very exciting time. As someone in the system, I'm glad that I get to be a part of it.
"For now, I hope to go back to Denver and help my team win a national championship. Winning a championship is something everyone dreams of, so I'm going to do everything I can to help achieve it."
If his sophomore season is anything like the 2011-12 campaign, the Pioneers should be poised to make a good run at it.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick