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Scouting the 2019 NHL Draft: Late-bloomer Brett Leason has finally figured it out

Or has he?

Russia v Canada - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Prince Albert’s Brett Leason is one of the more intriguing prospects available to NHL teams in this draft. It’s rare that we hear about overage prospects projected to go in the first round, but Leason is one of them. Leason, who was originally 2017 draft-eligible, only put up 18 points in 68 games in his WHL rookie year (2016-17). After that lacklustre season in Tri-City where he was stapled to the fourth line on a deep and talented roster, Leason was dealt to the Raiders early in the 2017-18 season and took advantage of that fresh start.

He improved to 32 points in 54 games with the Raiders that season, and although he was once again passed over in the 2018 NHL Draft, Leason returned to Prince Albert and lit up the league for 89 points in 55 games. He made Canada’s 2019 World Juniors team and was an impact, point-per-game player. Leason was clearly poorly utilized in Tri-City and his emergence as an offensive producer in Prince Albert was a large reason for their WHL championship and Memorial Cup berth this past season. Leason finished second in WHL playoff scoring with 25 points in 22 games (one point behind fellow 2019 draft-eligible prospect Bowen Byram).

Leason is a beast at 6’4”, 201 lbs, who played on a team of giants in Prince Albert (ten players were over 6’2”). He uses his size to win battles along the boards and get positioning in front of the net. But he isn’t just all brute strength, he can play a finesse game as well. Leason has a wicked and heavy wrist shot and a strong backhand, but also soft hands that make him a dangerous presence in front of other goalies. He can score in a variety of ways, whether it’s with his shot, tip-ins, or banging in rebounds by the crease. Also an effective playmaker, Leason has great puck control and isn’t afraid to stickhandle the puck away from dangerous areas and feed his teammates.

Leason’s greatest asset is his ability to draw opponents towards him, protect the puck, and maintain possession so his teammates can get to open areas or join the rush. He has a long reach that he uses to pressure defenders and create turnovers on the forecheck. Highly intelligent, Leason also uses his reach to cut off passes and support his defensemen with effective stickwork along the boards.

Like any taller player, Leason’s skating still needs some refining, but it is far from a liability now. In fact, his dedication to improving his stride and explosiveness in the prior off-season is likely what allowed him to blossom into the offensive dynamo that he was this season. His edges have become a lot smoother and agile this season, and have allowed him to make faster plays with the puck by cutting around defenders. He’s always been a difficult player to knock off the puck, and the changes that he has made to his skating have also made that more challenging.

The biggest question surrounding Leason is whether or not his production this past season was just a result of being an older player excelling as an older player on a very good major junior team. However, he could still return to the WHL for an overage season if he isn’t signed to an NHL contract in the off-season (which would probably help determine if this past season was a fluke). Teams will also have to figure out what Leason’s ceiling is - there’s likely not much more growth left for him as there would be with an 18-year old prospect.

Tanner Pearson is the only CHL player passed over in two NHL drafts to become a first round draft pick in his final year of draft eligibility. Leason will likely become the second. Pearson was taken 30th overall in 2012 by Los Angeles, but Leason could theoretically go as high as the early-20s or fall into the second round. Leason is probably a lot more pro-ready than the majority of prospects available where the Tampa Bay Lightning will draft. The Bolts will have to figure out whether Leason is a true match for the organization. But the potential is definitely there.

Other Scouting Reports:

Corey Pronman:

He’s not a highlight reel player by any means, but he has decent puck skills and can create offense with very good vision. He’s aware of his surroundings and can put pucks into seams. The biggest reason for Leason’s jump as a prospect was his skating. It improved from poor to potentially above-average. He can turn the corner occasionally on defensemen. Leason’s skating tests well, but in-game, his pace is very average. He’s big and strong, showing good puck protection skills. He’s not overly physical but competes well.

Scott Wheeler:

Sometimes, players just hit their growth curve at different times and their talent has to play catch-up to their body. Once Leason’s skating improved this season, his game took off because he does such a good job recognizing his teammates and he has the puck protection skill to hang onto the puck in all three zones until the right play opens up. He’s still not the fastest player on the ice but Leason’s skating no longer holds back the rest of his skill set. Had he played a full 68-game season (Leason missed a portion of the year due to the world juniors and another due to injury), Leason paced for 110 points.

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