It’s been a whirlwind of an offseason for Winnipeg native Brendan Leipsic.
After enjoying another strong season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the 23-year-old was snatched from the Maple Leafs organization in the 2017 expansion draft. He joins Marc-Andre Fleury, James Neal, and Jonathan Marchessault as the first members to join the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
In a one-on-one interview, Leipsic broke down what the expansion draft process was like from his perspective, touched on his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, revealed what number he’ll be wearing next season, and explained his unique relationship with NHL legend, Teemu Selanne.
Jesse Pollock: After tons of speculation over which player would be plucked from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the expansion draft, it ended up being you. What was the whole experience like?
Brendan Leipsic: It was always in the back of all of the players’ heads to start the year. But as it went on, a lot of guys had the mentality that you can only control what you can control, and that’s how you play on the ice. A lot of guys really didn’t think about it too much until the season was over, but then once teams had to make their protection list, and there was a chance I wouldn’t be protected, then I started thinking that there’s a chance that I might be picked. It’s no secret that Toronto has a lot of young forwards and I was boxed out looking on, but I’m excited for any opportunity. I found out just the night before that I was going to be going there. I was really excited and didn’t tell any of my friends or anything until we watched it on TV and it was a really cool experience.
JP: So your friends had no idea it was going to be you while watching it together?
BL: Yeah, a couple of them knew, but a couple of them had no clue while we were watching at my parents' place.
JP: Was it your agent that gave you the call to deliver the news, was it George McPhee, or someone else from the organization?
BL: Well, I had a feeling it was going to be me the night before. The next day I got a call from Kelly McCrimmon and then I got a call from Lou Lamoriello saying that Vegas had taken me. That was the morning of the draft, so I kept quiet after that and let people find out on their own.
JP: What exactly was going on in your head when you received the call? Can you describe some of the emotions?
BL: I was so excited to be honest, because it probably wasn’t going to work out in Toronto for me, if I’m being a realist. Their forwards are pretty solid and they’re all young. They also have a lot of good veterans that they want to keep around. It probably wouldn’t have worked out either way, but just going to a brand new franchise, there’s no one that’s been there, everybody gets a fresh start, which means everyone gets a chance to make a first impression. It will be a good opportunity for everyone.
JP: You played for the Leafs for a brief period, but were a huge part of the Toronto Marlies organization. What was it like playing in such a big market?
BL: I love Toronto. It’s the center of the hockey universe as a lot of people say. Playing with the Marlies was great, especially since you’re treated like you’re in the NHL. All of the equipment, therapists, and everything else you get exposed to. You get breakfast and lunch at the rink every day you come in with the Marlies, so that makes it a lot easier for young guys transitioning to pro hockey and stuff like that.
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JP: Seeing as BarDown combines sport with pop culture and a lot of our readers are from Toronto, can you share some of your favourite food spots and places to hang out in the city?
BL: I like Queen street, I like King street, one of my favourite places to eat was Wilbur Mexicana right on King Street West. It’s kind of like Chipotle.
JP: -It’s the best.
BL: It’s literally so good. I literally probably ate there four times a week if I was in Toronto for a full week. Burrito Boys too, they have a lot of other good restaurants. They have a lot of good pubs around town, anywhere around Queen Street or King street for a young guy in their 20’s is a great spot to be.
JP: One of your best moments as a Leaf was scoring your first goal, and it was a beauty at that. Can you touch on what that whole experience was like for you?
BL: It was pretty crazy. My good buddy Rich Clune, who a lot of people know, was playing on a line with me that game. He told me “you’re probably going to score your first goal today.” He then said, “I set everybody up.” He ended up taking a slap shot from the point that hit off of a defender’s back in front, and it popped up in the air and I just swatted it out of the air. It was surreal. I pinch myself sometimes when I look back on it, to remind myself that it actually happened. Watching it over and over again, it was crazy. I remember after the game my phone just blowing up; I got over 100 text messages and some Facebook messages. I had my family there, and my billets. It was just kind of a dream come true, I guess you can say.
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JP: Teemu Selanne released a touching photo on Instagram of the two of you prior to your first game. How did your relationship with him begin?
BL: When Teemu first played for the Jets in Winnipeg, his wife and my mom worked out at the same gym. They developed a close friendship, and their relationship kept growing as he played in Winnipeg. They’ve always kept in touch ever since they went to Anaheim, and then Colorado and all of that. We’ve been to Colorado, we’ve been to Anaheim a few times, it’s been a little while because our schedules are so crazy, but I always keep in touch with him and like you said, I believe I was three or four in that photo, eating a pregame meal with Teemu before one of his games. It was probably in 96’ or something, so that was a cool picture. I got a lot of action on social media as a result of it being posted.
JP: (Laughs) Teemu just being the beauty he is, hooking it up on social media.
BL: (Laughs) I know.
JP: You’ve been known in the past to play a pesky game. Do you plan on using a similar style if given the chance to play more of a regular NHL role?
BL: A little bit. I wouldn’t say I’m a pest, more just hard to play against. When you’re going into the NHL, you’re given an opportunity and you want to get the coach’s trust. Playing hard, being smart with the puck, being reliable in your own end, being good defensively is what coaches look for in young guys. Once you do that, you can gain the coach’s trust and are given a bit longer of a leash to make plays offensively. I don’t really plan on changing how I play too much. I play very competitively out there and don’t take a shift off. That’s what coaches are looking for today.
JP: Do you know what number you’ll be wearing next year yet?
BL: Yeah, I’ll be wearing number 13.
JP: Finally, the last question that we always end our interviews with: can you go BarDown?
BL: (Laughs) Most of the time.