I’m going to be completely upfront with you: the parameters for what counts a player as a prospect in these rankings weren’t built around Josh Leivo, but the fact that he just barely made it in made it easier to stick with them. Realistically, we should be talking about Leivo as an NHL player, but since he’s still yet to get even a fifth of a season in, he’s still looking for a true start to his career.

Age 24 (May 26, 1993) Birthplace Innisfil, Ontario
Pos Right Wing (RH) Drafted 2011 (Rd 3, Pick 86)
Vitals 6’1, 203lbs Acquired Via Draft

Leivo has been in the organization longer than any player on this list. Six years, to be exact, and the team has been very, very patient in developing him. Liking what they saw in his draft year, the Leafs let him continue to progress through major junior for two more years, and brought him to the Marlies once they were allowed.

That first AHL season was one where he made a lot of waves, thanks to a 23-goal outburst that led all forwards on the roster in the statistic. Of course, firing at 16.4% helped that cause, so combining regression with general inconsistencies meant a bit of a disappointing follow-up.

His last “full” year in the league, on the other hand, delivered everything that anyone was hoping for. Most frequently paired with Zach Hyman and William Nylander, the trio were one of the most dominant lines in the AHL, not just that year, but maybe ever, buzz-sawing through their opponents both on the ice and on the scoresheet.

15  2008-09  Barrie Colts Minor Midget AAA  ETAMMHL 71 31 35 66 65
16  2009-10  Barrie Colts Midget AAA  ETAHL 52 21 41 62 59
17  2010-11  Sudbury Wolves  OHL 64 13 17 30 11.5 37 -10
18  2011-12  Sudbury Wolves  OHL 66 32 41 73 27.2 61 2
19  2012-13  Sudbury / Kitchener  OHL 63 29 44 73 28.5 52 20
19  Toronto Marlies  AHL 4 0 2 2 19.3 2 1
20  2013-14  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL 7 1 1 2 23.4 0 0
20  Toronto Marlies  AHL 59 23 19 42 27.4 27 6
21  2014-15  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL 9 1 0 1 9.1 4 -1
21  Toronto Marlies  AHL 51 11 21 32 24.2 44 12
22  2015-16  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL 12 5 0 5 34.2 6 2
22  Toronto Marlies  AHL 51 17 31 48 36.3 14 14
23  2016-17  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL 13 2 8 10 63.1 4 2
23  Toronto Marlies  AHL 5 0 0 0 0 6 1

His efforts in 2015/16, which included a stint with the Leafs where he scored goals at will, earned him the captivated interest of his own team, and many others. This should have meant a permanent spot on the big club, but..

You know. That logjam. So many different forwards to choose from, so many different roles that Mike Babcock likes to mix into this lines, so few places to put the players on the ice. Come opening night, there was no room for Leivo on the roster, and thanks to the fact that he no longer had waiver exemption, Toronto really had three choices: scratch him, trade him, or lose him for nothing.

They chose the first one, assuming that an injury would come around at some point to give Leivo the ice time he sought. The issue is that such a situation never really happened; the Leafs stayed spectacularly, freakishly healthy, and while Leivo racked up points and drove play when he got his chances, they didn’t last long enough.

This became especially true at the end of the year when the injury bug focused itself on the fourth line. Nikita Soshnikov was concussed, Eric Fehr was injured in his first night filling in, and what could have been Leivo’s time to shine ended up leading to a Kasperi Kapanen call-up, due to the latter’s ability to kill penalties.

When the Leafs started developing Leivo, they were hoping to build him into a younger, hopefully healthier Joffrey Lupul:

“(Lupul’s) a guy we’d like to mirror him after,” said Spott. “When you look at a Joffrey Lupul- big, strong, can play left wing or right wing, Josh has to watch and maybe mirror a Joffrey Lupul where he uses his size to his advantage and has a great shot and great puck possession.”

“(Josh) has tremendous puck protection, good hands and he possesses a good shot,” said Spott. For Josh, it’s consistency every day, being a pro on and off the ice. This is just a part of the maturation process.”

“I’ve watched (Lupul) a lot during the games and I’d love to play like him, he’s a great player,” said Leivo. “If that’s what Spotter sees, that’s a good thing. I kind of watch him when he’s skating out there and I kind of learn, see what he’s doing…I just think I need to get a little bit better defensively. I think I’ll be good.” [via KyleTheReporter]

With each year, that comparison has become more apt. His shot gets a bit more deadly every game, his awareness of how to contribute to a cycle gets a little better, he gets a bit and he gets a little more involved along the boards. His play on the other side of the ice still leaves you wanting more, which is one of the reasons that he hasn’t played as regularly.

The Upcoming Year

Leivo finds himself in perhaps the toughest spot in the entire organization right now. This is fully, completely, obviously a full-time NHL player, stuck waiting for a moment of fragility from one of his peers so he can fill in their roster spot. He can’t opt to keep honing his craft in the minors because he isn’t waiver exempt and a team would definitely take him.

He could always force his fate, but doing so pulls him away from the team he’s spent half a decade trying to make and all his life wanting to be a part of. It’s a gut-wrenching position for him, where the best case scenario is the failure of others to give him a window to succeed.

All the same, it would be nothing short of a miraculous feat for the Leafs to end up even healthier than last year, so he’s bound to get himself some ice time eventually. Will he keep scoring at a 60 point pace? I doubt it, but if he’s still able to pitch in even half of that while driving play in a lower-minute position, that should be considered a win, and a way to establish a foothold for 2018/19.

Oh, and if I were him, I’d be putting in every ounce of effort that I could into my two-way game during practices and training. If PK ability and defensive play are what is keeping him out of the lineup, eliminate that problem.

Long-Term Outlook

Josh Leivo is probably a good middle-six forward. Possibly even a third-wheel first liner, possibly a Diamond Deluxe skilled fourth liner. These aren’t even exactly projections; this is what we’ve already seen of the player, who is now barrelling towards athletic prime age.

Getting him into the position to do that is going to be the bigger issue. If injuries don’t give him an opening, will he wait it out for another year? If he does, free agents and trades should give him the opening he’s been seeking. But that’s a lot of patience to ask of a player with his career on the line, that’s already been waiting for a while.

I don’t envy his predicament or the Leafs’. This is very clearly a graduate waiting to hop onto the podium, and I doubt anybody feels happy about it. Hopefully, the storyline gets a little better soon.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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