Every so often, the Vegas Golden Knights put out a tweet on their account that is actually about their hockey team and doesn’t have a joke attached to it. yesterday was one of those days, where the club posted their players’ full-season paces for certain stats.

As you can see, Brendan Leipsic, who the Toronto Maple Leafs chose to expose in the expansion draft in June and promptly lost, is at the bottom, on pace for.. zero goals. Leafs fans, particularly those who were in favour of protecting veterans (Matt Martin being a contention point for in the debate), had a good laugh about how disappointing their former player has been:

..I don’t remember anybody suggesting that the Leafs should leave Connor Brown, exposed, but anyway. The point is that there’s a decent sized crowd (I won’t include anyone) that is high fiving over the failure of their once-possessed prospect. But is he really failing to deliver? Here’s where he stands on the team in 5v5 play, which is the only place where he’s been finding minutes of late:

Statistic Result Rank
Points /60 2.43 2nd
Primary Points/60 1.46 7th
Game Score /60 3.01 2nd
Primary Assists /60 1.46 1st
Secondary Assists /60 0.97 2nd
Total Assists /60 2.43 1st
Corsi For % 54.27 2nd
Relative CF% 4.34 3rd
Expected Goals % 58.75 4th
Relative xG% 8.13 4th
Individual Attempts /60 8.73 15th
Individual xG/60 0.46 11th
Shooting Percentage 0 19th
Giveaways /60 2.91 1st
Takeaways /60 3.88 4th
Puck Interactions /60 6.79 1st
Hits For /60 6.31 6th
Hits Against /60 3.88 17th

What can we gather as a baseline, based on those numbers? Well, a lot of things.

  • 0% shooting percentages for just about any player are a massive, massive anomaly. It’s only happened 20 times among forwards that have played 60+ games in an NHL season, spread across 17 different players. The vast majority of these players were enforcers, it’s only happened four times in the cap era, and it hasn’t happened at all since 2009/10.
  • Leipsic doesn’t shoot an awful lot, but he creates but tends to get in a little closer with his shots than his peers. That should lead to some goal regression soon.
  • What he does do, though, is pass and drive play. He’s dominating the assist charts, which leaves him still ranked as one of the team’s most efficient scorers. His ability to move the puck around, both on his feet and with his stick, leads to the Knights controlling the play better than they usually do while he’s on the ice, especially in the offensive zone:

  • Lastly, looking at giveaway, takeaway, and hit information, you can see that he’s more involved with the puck individually than the rest of his peers, that he’s not shy about throwing his body around, and that, despite having the puck so frequently and not having fear of the boards, he’s evasive.

All of this put together gives you a pretty solid hockey player, that just happens to in a tough spot in a couple of ways right now. The Golden Knights still have an abundance of players due to their misreading of the trade market in the summer, that they leaned more on those who helped them through their hot start, and Gerard Gallant’s typical preference for a bigger team played a role in him getting scratched a few times. But now he seems to have found himself a spot with Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin. Via sinbin.vegas:

GALLANT: The line played real well. They had a lot of good chances. Alex Tuch is a good guy that can skate and compete. He’s trying to get the puck from down low. Leipsic played another good, solid game. He created some scoring chances and he worked hard. I thought the line was real good for our club.

TUCH: I think Brendan (Leipsic) coming in gives us a different perspective and a different style of play. I don’t think it was necessarily Oscar (Lindberg), I just think Eakin and I started playing a little better and finding each other more. Brendan was able to jump in and provide even more energy and we created chemistry right off the bat.

EAKIN: He does a great job down low, that’s where he does his best work, beyond the goal line. He’s a big guy, he controls the play down there and he’s hard to knock off the puck. So with Leipsic and I skating and Tuch holding on to the puck and going into the dirty areas it’s been really good.

So the team likes what they see. His teammates, his coach like what they see. But why is it so different from what we’ve seen from Brendan Lepisic in the past? Probably because it isn’t. Here are his AHL numbers with the Marlies.

2016/17 49 18 33 51 146 12.33
2015/16 65 20 34 54 169 11.83
2014/15 27 7 12 19 58 12.07

Now, I’m not an expert, but that looks to me like someone that’s capable of shooting the puck, but is best off when passing it. On the Marlies last year, Leipsic was 2nd in primary and secondary assists and points per game to now-Sabres forward Seth Griffith. He did shoot a fair bit more frequently than he has with the Knights so far, but was considered a star player on the team and was also used in the slot on the powerplay, something he hasn’t had much opportunity to do with in Vegas, kind of like this:

We don’t have real-time stats to estimate style, but we do have the eye test, that saw him carry like this:

and this:

and this:

and many more fun breakouts that I wish I had recorded previously. But I did note it when he left the team:

Besides the raw numbers, there are a lot of things to like in Leipsic’s game. While his 200-foot game isn’t perfect, it’s good enough that he’s seen some penalty kill time. He’s not scared to throw a hit despite his size, and he’s certainly not scared to mix it up with opponents, be it in skirmishes or just through yapping and getting under their skin. He’s got excellent vision, a knack for finding his teammates, and isn’t shy to take his chances on a one-timer on occasion.

Most impressive to me, though, is his ability to carry the puck. If you’ve got a team that actively avoids the dump and chase, Leipsic is the guy for you; his ability to generate speed with the puck and find open lanes to cross the ice fooled far too many AHL forwards and defencemen last year, and was key in establishing offensive zone pressure for the Marlies in just about any situation. It’s perhaps the strongest facet of his game, yet something that doesn’t get a ton of hype.

It all comes together to a point. The people who vouched for keeping him, that had seen his body of work with the Marlies both on paper and with their eyes, aren’t surprised by the player’s current performance. What’s more? The performance has been good. Lacking in the goal department right now, but they’ll come. I’m not here to argue with you today about the “should’ve kept” part. I still have my opinions, but that isn’t the point.

The point here is to say he’s underperformed, and that the Leafs have been “proven right” by his “failures” is incredibly misleading. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to continue to believe that this kid will be just fine:

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