Brett Leason will be back on the big stage at the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
After starring for Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, the Prince Albert Raiders forward and 2019 National Hockey League Entry Draft hopeful will have another opportunity to put his skills on display for the many fans, scouts, and general managers in attendance.
After going unselected in the last two NHL drafts, Leason has been a man on a mission this season with the Raiders, as the Calgary native leads his team in all categories – goals, assists, and points – through his first 37 games. In all, Leason has picked up 30 goals and 40 assists for 70 points on the season, after finishing the 2017-18 campaign with 32 points in 54 appearances.
Leason’s production this season has put him on the radar for NHL scouts come the June draft, where he’s now graded as an ‘A’ Player to Watch in NHL Central Scouting’s midseason rankings, a strong indication that he will be selected in the first or second round of the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
The lanky centre appears to be the latest future NHLer who has taken a longer road to future stardom, a group which includes Pittsburgh Penguins forward and Barrie Colts graduate Tanner Pearson, who at 19 years old was selected in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
But the season Leason is piecing together isn’t all too surprising, particularly to those who spend the most time around, like Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid, who will also act as an assistant coach at the prospect showcase for Team Orr, whose squad includes Leason.
“(Leason) finished up strong last year and had a good summer. In junior, everyone develops at different rates and different ages, and obviously he was a late bloomer,” Habscheid told the Canadian Hockey League. “Confidence is a big thing. In junior, you get guys graduating and then guys get a year older so they get their footing a little bit more and start scoring early and it carries on.
“It’s made coaches look at guys who haven’t gone through the draft and understand they can still have the opportunity to get drafted and play in the NHL. More than anything, it’s given the players hope because you can still play and still be drafted.”
A Western Hockey League star, Leason is better known to fans in the West, but he put himself in the national spotlight as part of the Canadian squad at the world juniors, where he notched three goals and two assists in five games to finish third in team scoring. The opportunity allowed Leason to show his greatest attributes to a wider audience.
“He’s got great hands and his skating has improved where now he’s a fast player, so he’s kind of the whole package,” Habscheid described. “But probably more than anything, he’s smart.”
Between Prince Albert’s schedule, his play at the world juniors, and the different camps he’s attended in between, it’s been a hectic season for the draft-eligible centre, and one that promises to only become busier as the June draft nears. Part of that, of course, is skating in the prospect showcase, where he will have his latest chance to impressive attending talent evaluators.
“The level of competition is the highest it can be in junior hockey,” Habscheid said of the Top Prospects Game. “He just has to go in there and play his game and not try to change anything, just do what he does and have the confidence that he is a good player who has played at that level at the world juniors already.”
As for Habscheid, the opportunity to be behind the bench at the prospect showcase will reunite him with Robyn Regehr, who he coached while with the Kamloops Blazers. Regehr will serve as an assistant coach with Team Orr.
“Robyn was on the team in Kamloops the first year I came into the league. He was a special player but more than that he was a special person. He was very mature for his age,” Habscheid said. “It was fun to see him go through his NHL career and it was nice that he got a Stanley Cup ring. It just makes you realize how fast it goes because one day you’re coaching him in junior and in the next blink of an eye he’s retired from the NHL, so it makes you appreciate every day.
“But most importantly, we’re not the focal point of the game – the kids are, so we want to make sure we give them the best platform to show their stuff. With this game, you want to support the players as best you can so they can show off to the scouts and play their best possible game.”