(Eye on the Future is WCH's new feature in which we break down an individual game by an NHL prospect in-depth, while also looking at what that prospect's long-term future is.)
Player: Joey LaLeggia, Sophomore, Denver
Denver's Joey LaLeggia was passed over twice in the NHL Draft while playing for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL. Despite scoring well over a point per game from the blue line both years, his 5'10 180 lbs. frame likely scared off a of potential NHL teams. Last year as a freshman at Denver, he continued to put up points, scoring 38 points, which was good for second among WCHA freshman, and third among WCHA defensemen, and was named College Hockey News' Rookie of the Year. In his final year of draft eligibility, LaLeggia was selected in the fifth round of the draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
Denver regularly skates seven defensemen, and the Pioneers give their defensemen a lot of freedom to rush up the ice if they see an opportunity. LaLeggia jumped into the rush numerous times as an extra forward, and never really seemed to get caught, though Denver's forwards do an excellent job of covering defensively when one of their D jumps up into the play.
The thing that stood out most about LaLeggia was his shot. He doesn't have a big booming slap shot, but has a very heavy snap shot that he gets off with a very quick release. He scored a goal 1:23 into the second period when he rushed the puck up the right side of the rink, skated a few strides into the offensive zone, cut towards the middle of the ice and fired a shot. It was a pretty innocuous looking play with LaLeggia by himself against two defenders, but LaLeggia timed his shot perfectly so that one of the defenders seemed to screen the vision of the goalie, and the shot seemed to get on goal a lot quicker than the goalie was expecting. As a result, the shot beat the goalie high to the stick side. After the game, Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings said, "If you give a player like LaLeggia the puck like that at the top of the circles, he doesn't need two or three chances to score."
LaLeggia plays on Denver's top power play unit. On the Denver power play, LaLeggia starts off on the left point, and as Denver gains control of the puck and can set up, LaLeggia slides over to the center of the ice, setting Denver up in an umbrella power play formation. LaLeggia's best shot of the game came on the power play in the second period. He took a pass from the corner at the top of the umbrella and was able to fire off a quick shot before the defense was able to react and get in position to block the shot. The official game-scoring listed it as a shot on goal, though it looked like the puck caught the outside of the crossbar. Either way, judging by the distance the puck traveled off the deflection, that puck was really moving, even though LaLeggia didn't have much time to wind up for a shot.
Despite being a guy that racks up a lot of assists, I wasn't blown away with his passing ability. It may have just been complacency, but he made a couple bad outlet passes that were picked off by the opposition and led to odd-man rushes in the other direction. Neither ended up on the scoresheet, but both were definite scoring chances.
Defensively, LaLeggia was pretty good positionally, but was on the ice for two of Minnesota State's goals, and both seemed to be the result of him being out-muscled behind the net. Late in a close game, Denver didn't shorten their bench at all, but he wasn't the first choice coming off the bench after a late timeout.
The long-term projection for LaLeggia is pretty clearly going to be as a power play specialist at the next level. He's got a pro-caliber shot, and should be able to put up points in any league in plays in. That said, he's also going to be a high-risk, high-reward player, because it's difficult to see him being an effective defender at the next level. He's got a pretty stocky build despite being pretty small, and with another couple seasons at Denver, he could improve in that area, He's likely a borderline NHL player at this point, with some intriguing upside, because it's so hard to find prospects that score points.