Josh Leivo: Low Risk, High Reward

Via Marie Sorvin of USA Today

It has been a very interesting offseason, not only across the entire NHL, but especially for the St. Louis Blues and General Manager Doug Armstrong. There have been some good parts, but there have been too many bad parts. Most Blues fans focus on the big moves of the summer, such as the four year extension for Nick Leddy, the eight year extension for Robert Thomas, trading Ville Husso, or letting David Perron walk. While yes, these transactions have been extremely impactful to the team, there has been one move that St. Louis made that has, somehow, been forgotten by a lot of people. Let’s talk about Josh Leivo.

In case you missed it, or if you forgot, the Blues signed forward Josh Leivo to a one way, one year, $750k, contract for the 2022-23 season. Leivo, who turned 29 in May, is now set to play for his fifth NHL team before he turns 30 years old. Leivo was drafted 86th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the 2011 NHL Draft. He made his debut for the Leafs in 2013 and was there until 2018 when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in December, 2018.

Since then, he’s bounced around the league, playing for three teams in the past three years, spending time with Vancouver, Calgary, and Carolina. So why am I talking about a player who only has 77 points in his nine year career that signed to a league minimum contract for only one season? Here’s why.

With the departure (again) of David Perron, the injury to Alexei Toropchenko, and most Blues prospects not being ready for a full time roster spot, there are definitely some holes in the lineup. This is where Leivo comes in. His best season of his career was 2018-19 where he had a career-high 24 points. That may not be that eye popping, but more notably, 14 of his 24 points were goals. That is what Josh Leivo is. He has been a bottom six forward for almost all of his NHL career, yet he still has some very surprising goal scoring ability. Last season, he spent most of his year in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves. In 54 regular season games with the Wolves, Leivo put up 22 goals and 46 points.

However, the best part of Leivo last season was his historic performance during the Calder Cup Playoffs for Chicago. In 18 playoff games, Leivo put up an absolutely staggering 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points. Talk about having the clutch gene! The 29 points of course, leading all players in the Calder Cup Playoffs. That is the main reason why Doug Armstrong signed Leivo to a “prove it” deal. There’s definitely something there with Leivo. And it gets even better. Leivo is an extremely strong forward on both the offensive, and defensive, sides of the ice. His best year analytically was 2018-19, where he had 0.14 xGF/60, which is 6% better than league average, and -0.25 xGA/60, which is 10% better than league average (data via hockeyviz.com). So his defensive impact is extremely strong, and has been strong for just about his entire career. He also has some very impressive skating for a bigger power forward like him. It was about time that he exploded in production during the playoffs.

To summarize, Leivo is on a league minimum contract for only one year. Even if he doesn’t play well on a 3rd or 4th line role, he can easily go down to the minors, where he will thrive. However, I expect him to be just about a full time bottom six forward. He can play a physical kind of game if he is needed on the fourth line, but also has the skillset of a middle six player. Leivo is a great pickup for the Blues, and I think he will be a really good depth piece for the team.

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