The following article is part of a continuing series this season, where MayorsManor correspondent David Hofreiter provides commentary on prospects playing in the Canadian-based major junior leagues and US-based college hockey programs. He’ll spend time tracking a player, then offer some opinions and observations based on a single game or multiple games, depending on the points being presented.
Since returning to action after missing time with different ailments, two of the Los Angeles Kings’ more recent draft picks have taken the Ontario Hockey League by storm.
Right wing Justin Auger was out for 15 games due to mononucleosis. Meanwhile, puck moving defenseman Zac Leslie had missed eight games due to an upper body injury. Both returned in early November though and were in the line-up again on Sunday for a matchup between the Guelph Storm and Kitchener Rangers.
Entering play, the two LA prospects had combined for 14 points (eight goals, six assists) and a plus-9 rating since their comebacks. Each player also had a hat trick in the last week, including a four goal performance by Leslie on Saturday.
But, he wasn’t done just yet.
On Sunday, Leslie capped off the impressive week with yet another four point game. Auger was held scoreless.
Auger received third line minutes, secondary time with an extra man and sat on the bench during shorthanded situations.
Selected in the fourth round (103rd overall), Auger’s ice time seemed to decrease quite a bit as time elapsed; he had a weak showing compared to the rest of the Storm players – especially for somebody listed at 6-foot-7, 231-pounds.
Overall, he was a pretty graceful skater, yet weak on his feet at times. He was shoved off the puck rather easily more than once during the game. In return, he had a couple strong pushes on the opposition and added the intangible ‘intimidation’ component. After boarding one Rangers player, his Kitchener teammate jumped into the fray and started jostling with Auger.
The big man (or kid, in this case) threw his gloves down and showed his willingness to fight, as he towered over the other skater - who suddenly had a change of heart and skated away.
Beyond the occasional tossing of his weight around, Auger was largely (pun intended) a non-factor despite being a plus-2 on the day. He didn’t use his size to screen the goalie or to separate players from the puck. His reach was there to pursue the puck, but it was never a turning point.
Remember this was only one game, and not an indictment on the quality of Auger as a prospect.
Leslie, on the other hand, showed game breaking decisions offensively for the full 60 minutes.
Standing 6-foot-1, 177-pounds, he opened the scoring just over halfway into the first period, finding a defensive seam to skate through and finishing off a tic-tac-toe play with a one-timer, short-side into the net.
Later, with the Storm already up 3-0, he joined on the attack again down the right side. Leslie received a pass into his skates, pivoted to back away, and made a tape-to-tape pass into the slot, where Winnipeg Jets prospect Scott Kosmachuk easily tapped it in .
Leslie’s second assist of the game came on the power play just three minutes later, when a clearing attempt bounced off him and onto the stick of fellow teammate, who forwarded the puck to Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect Brock McGinn. He roofed it short-side for another Storm goal.
Adding to his totals, the defenseman recorded his fourth point of the afternoon when he jumped into the play one last time with just over 20 seconds remaining in the game; his quick wrist shot beat the helpless goaltender, capping off a 6-0 win.
As described above, Leslie showed a very strong sense of finding open areas on the ice so he could strategically join in and provide key offense. It’s important to note, unlike many junior players, Leslie did not try to do too much with the puck. He also played with a bit of a physical edge, where he had no problem muscling his light frame up against opposing players behind the net.
While his offensive acumen and physical play impressed, he did seem to struggle with breakouts and defensive play. He tried many long stretch passes out of the defensive zone, when there were shorter ones to be made; consequently, his misfired attempts resulted in at least three unnecessary icings. Thus, Leslie needed to show better discipline with moving the puck out.
When on defense, he had a tendency to watch the play from the slot without tying up sticks with any dangerous offensive threat nearby. Leslie did venture out occasionally, yet, he was chasing; lacking the anticipation which would make him an exceptional defender.
In the end, Leslie finished with four points (two goals, two assists), and a plus-4 rating. He had six goals and two assists in less than 24 hours. He and Auger now get a three day rest, before taking the ice again on Thursday against the Erie Otters.
UPDATE: Earlier today, the OHL announced Leslie as their Player of the Week. He had a total of 10 points, including four goals, last week and becomes the first OHL defenseman to win the award thus far this season.
For more on Leslie, please see the links below.
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