Hockey players will tell you they’d walk through hell for a chance to play in the NHL.
Having now spent time in July in Nashville, Brendan Leipsic can say he almost did.
Leipsic’s introduction to his future hockey home during the Predators’ recent Rookie Development Camp came during a time when the city was hitting record-high temperatures in the triple digits, to say nothing of that famous southern humidity.
And while the daily walks from the hotel to the practice rink and back in the summer inferno were as grueling as any on-ice work, you won’t hear him complaining. Leipsic has his foot in the door of the NHL, and now plans to crash through it.
“(Head Coach) Barry Trotz and (General Manager) David Poile were saying that everyone’s got a chance to be a pro player in Nashville, it just depends on how much you want it and how you commit to doing the right things on and off ice,” said Leipsic. “They gave us a plan to stick to and said that if you do it well you have a chance to play in their farm system and then in the NHL.”
Leipsic’s trip to their development camp came just over a week after the Predators traded up in the draft to select him in the third round, 89th overall after he posted 58 points in 65 games last season.
Leipsic and his family were gathered around the television at the family home in Winnipeg when they saw his name flash across the screen.
“It was nuts. My mom was celebrating, screaming and crying a bit. My Dad was playing the laid back tough guy though,” he said with a laugh.
The moment was so overwhelming that when Leipsic saw his name appear on the ticker, he didn’t even notice which team it was that had taken him. It was minutes later when his agent called to congratulate him that he thought to ask which team he’d gone to.
With the emotion and excitement of the moment carrying Leipsic in the days after the draft, it wasn’t until he got to Nashville and hit the ice at the practice facility on the first day that it finally sunk in that he was now a member of a National Hockey League organization.
It helped that he’s going to an organization with several familiar faces. Former Winterhawk Paul Gaustad, whom many of the current Hawks players know through his appearances at Portland training camps, was traded to Nashville last season and re-signed with the organization last week. Gaustad texted Leipsic after the draft to congratulate him on being selected by the Predators.
In addition, former Winterhawks head coach Brent Peterson is an advisor with the Predators and spent time with Leipsic during the development camp. And former Winterhawks teammates Taylor Aronson and Cam Reid are fellow Predators draft picks who also attended the camp.
“I talked to (Aronson and Reid) a little bit before and hung out with them there, it wasn’t their first time. Going into it with two guys you’re pretty close with makes it easier than being a lone wolf,” said Leipsic. “With Brent, Paul Gaustad, myself, Cam and Taylor, there’s definitely a Portland element with the Predators.”
Leipsic is back home in Winnipeg for now, but he’ll be back on the ice soon enough, having been named along with teammate Ty Rattie to Canada’s squad in the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge. The four-game tournament between the two teams will feature two games in Russia and two games in Canada next month, and will serve as part of player evaluations for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“It’s pretty crazy, out of all the players in the CHL, being one of five 1994-born forwards is pretty nice,” said Leipsic. “It says volumes what they think of me and hopefully I can make a good impression and play well.”
As someone who plays much bigger than his size, impressions have never been a problem for Leipsic. Between the Predators trading up to take him, representing his country in international play and hoping to lead the Winterhawks back to the WHL Final, the only thing hotter than his stock right now is a Nashville afternoon.