Undrafted Brett Leason has strong case to represent Canada at WJC

If you’ve watched a Prince Albert Raiders game this season, you’ve probably seen Brett Leason get a point.

In fact, that’s almost a guarantee.

The 19-year-old has exploded out of the gates, picking up points in 30 consecutive games to start the season. That streak ended in a shutout loss to the Saskatoon Blades on Dec. 9, but Leason still leads the WHL in scoring with 28 goals and 64 points.

Those are impressive numbers for any player, but coming into this season Leason had just 24 goals and 51 points in 135 WHL games. He’s already smashed his career-best numbers, and even he’s surprised by his success.

“I had more confidence coming into camp so I felt like I’d have a good year, but nothing to the extent that I am right now,” he says. “I figured I’d be around a point a game or just over that but nothing like this.”

Leason’s strong start has earned him a spot at Team Canada’s Selection Camp for a chance to play at the world juniors. The right winger, twice passed over at the NHL Draft, will be competing for a coveted spot on Canada’s roster against emerging stars who have some degree of NHL experience, be it game action or training camp exposure.

NHL scouts have been speaking to him this season and NHL.com has added Leason to its list of players to watch for the 2019 draft. But outside of Prince Albert, a small town 90 minutes northeast of Saskatoon, Leason is still a relatively unknown talent.

But it was that move to Prince Albert, who acquired him in 2017 from the Tri-City Americans for a third-round pick, that Leason credits for turning his WHL career around.

“In Tri-City I was buried by a very experienced forward group. Then when I got traded I came to Prince Albert I got the chance to play and just play my game,” Leason said. “And after Christmas I started to heat up and it continued on to this year.”

A six-foot-four, 199-pound winger who brings more speed and skill to the game than toughness, Leason has found a place on the Raiders’ top line with centre Sean Montgomery. The two became fast friends after the trade and their styles complement each other well on the ice.

“I think we just kind of feed off one another,” Montgomery said when asked to explain his chemistry with Leason. “We have an understanding on the ice of where the other guy is going to be and what he’s going to do that kind of has just come from playing with each other for quite a while now.”

Head coach Marc Habscheid refuses to take credit for the chemistry oozing from his top line, but says he’s not surprised by it.

“They’re both the same type of people and you could just see when they’re on the ice together there’s just an energy,” Habscheid says. “Chemistry is a big thing and you could just see they had chemistry. Why they fit, who knows, all I know is they fit and they complement each other.”

After Leason was acquired, Habscheid noted that it was important to find him a regular partner to play with. Leason had less playing time and, as a result, fewer prime chances to get on the score sheet with the Americans. But before getting to the WHL he had always been a scorer, putting up 83 points in 30 minor midget games as a 15-year-old, and 50 points in 32 Midget ‘AAA’ games the following season in Calgary.

So when Leason first arrived Habscheid told him he didn’t care how many hits he got, he just wanted Leason to play the game he was comfortable with. The player has rewarded his coach’s trust and Habscheid says there’s something to be learned from watching a late bloomer have success.

“I think this is a good lesson for everybody. Just because you didn’t get drafted as a 17-year-old, you still can play in the National Hockey League,” Habscheid said. “You just have to keep believing and keep working on your game and Brett Leason is proof. You can still do it, just don’t give up and keep working away.”

Leason’s success has paved the way for the Raiders to be one of the CHL’s top teams through the first half of the season. Prince Albert has sat atop the CHL rankings every week since Oct. 17 and have a 28-2-1 record that includes a 19-game winning streak. From goaltender Ian Scott, who is joining Leason at Team Canada’s camp, to the Leason-Montgomery line, the Raiders are clicking from top to bottom.

An Ed Chynoweth Cup title and spot in the Memorial Cup Tournament certainly seems possible for the Raiders, as does a scoring title for Leason. In fact, the only thing that may get in the way of him finishing the season as the WHL’s top point-getter is the time he’d spend away from the Raiders should he be part of Canada’s WJC squad.

But that’s a trade he’d be willing to make.

“It would mean a lot for sure to get recognized on that level and to play for your country,” Leason said. “It’s something everyone wants to play so I’d be really grateful for it and I hope I get the chance.”

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