Leonard learning on the fly
Being just good enough isn’t good enough for Alec Leonard.
The 17-year-old defenceman for the Niagara IceDogs is living his dream of playing in the Ontario Hockey League, but is far from satisfied simply to have made the jump from minor hockey to the OHL.
“I expect a lot out of myself,” Leonard said. “I want to help the team win and do my best every night, play to my full potential and what they drafted me to do.
“I expect a lot.”
IceDogs assistant coach Jody Hull, who works with the defence, agrees Leonard sets the bar high.
“Alex is a guy that’s pretty hard himself on how he plays and how he prepares for it,” Hull said. “I think he has high expectations of himself and from my experience, defence is a tougher position for a younger player to necessarily pick up right away.”
Hull said he feels Leonard is acclimating himself to junior hockey quite nicely.
“Working with him daily on video and things in practice, he’s picking things up pretty quick,” Hull said.
Leonard, who was selected in the second round (27th overall) of the 2020 OHL draft, admits it’s been a big jump to junior.
“It’s definitely pretty hard,” he said. “It’s a really good league with a lot of good guys but it’s been a really good transition. All the guys on this team and all the coaches have all made it super easy.
“It’s been tough because the hockey is hard, but I feel like I fit right in.”
Leonard hasn’t looked out of place with one assist and a plus-2 rating in his first two games at the OHL level last week as the IceDogs defeated Barrie and Oshawa to kick off the regular season.
“The maturity level out there, I’ve had to adapt to that a lot,” the Toronto native said. “Calmness, being smart with the puck, limiting mistakes, everything’s got to be a lot more simple because any little mistakes or any mishaps, the great players on the other teams will capitalize immediately.”
Leonard missed what was supposed to be his rookie season in the OHL due to the COVID pandemic which wiped out the entire 2020/21 campaign.
“It was definitely difficult for everyone but I made sure I spent the time preparing as much as I possibly could, and with how much I prepared, it’s honestly helped me tremendously out there,” he said.
Hull feels Leonard will get more responsibilities as he gains more experience.
“Moving forward, I can see him being a regular guy five-on-five,” Hull said. “He will get special teams opportunities as he moves forward. Right now he’s killing penalties and playing that role very well. As he gets a little bit older and has a little bit more confidence with the puck and offensively, I’m sure he’ll be given opportunities to be out on the power play.
“Right now it’s learning some tendencies in the game and doing the right things as a young guy. As your confidence grows and your trust grows with your coaches, you are put in different situations and you become a little bit more valuable.”
Leonard, who played his U16 season with the Mississauga Reps AAA, is loving the lifestyle of the OHL which includes practices, workouts and video sessions on an almost daily basis.
“It’s super exciting, that’s what I came here to do, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “The only way the team is going to be successful is if we’re doing more than others.
“It’s hockey all the time and that’s exactly how I like it.”
The IceDogs are in Hamilton Friday and home to the Bulldogs Saturday.
Hull indicated there are no changes in the status of injured players Anthony Agostinelli (shoulder) and Mason Howard (upper body) who did not play last week.
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