Josh Leivo has found a knack for scoring big goals for the Canucks, plus the guy can play.GLENDALE, Ariz. — On the Jim Benning report card, there are numerous misses. The trade for Josh Leivo last December is definitely not one of them.The winger, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for minor leaguer Michael Carcone, is a certified A-plus deal by the Canucks’ general manager.Night in, night out, Leivo has demonstrated what a complete hockey player he is in the Vancouver lineup. There are the obvious things, like the hard shot that nets him goals such as the one he scored Wednesday in Denver, tying the NHL game 2-2 with just over three minutes to play. The Avalanche won in a shootout.And then there are the not-so-obvious things, like his work at preventing opposing shots.For Leivo, as cautious a speaker as they come, it can be difficult to get a sense of what he really thinks. But you know he loves the game, and he definitely loves that he’s been given an NHL opportunity after toiling in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system for the last five seasons.But you pry a little and you can hear a sense of pride in how hard he’s worked since graduating to pro hockey in 2013-14.“As a pro I believe I’ve learned a lot in the minors, but I just try to keep the game simple. When the chances are there it’s a fun game to play,” he said after Wednesday’s loss at the Pepsi Center in Colorado.For his first three professional seasons, he played mostly in the AHL for the Toronto Marlies, but got cups of NHL coffee each of those years.Then the past two seasons he was mostly stuck in the press box — he suited up 29 times, but mostly was a healthy scratch. Last season, he was out of action at one point for 55 games, prompting his request for a trade.
Josh Leivo, centre, celebrates with teammates after scoring the tying goal in Denver Wednesday night. Though good enough to suit up for the Leafs, coach Mike Babcock couldn’t find a role for him.
Matthew Stockman /
He was good enough to stick around, the Leafs’ brass seemed to think, but coach Mike Babcock couldn’t find a role for him.To start this season, with William Nylander a contract holdout, Leivo finally got a chance to play. But that gig disappeared when Nylander signed.A trade followed in December — Leafs GM Kyle Dubas promised him he would move him if there wasn’t a full-time job for him in Toronto — and you know the story since.Leivo has scored eight times in 32 games and has spent most of his time in blue and green playing on one of the Canucks’ top two lines.He’s comfortable in his new environment, he said, and it didn’t take him long to realize that coach Travis Green had trust in him.“You’re playing a whole other conference, the game’s a little different, still got to get used to the guys. I was playing on different lines, mixing it up, but I think after the first couple games I really started feeling (comfortable),” Leivo said.“Once Greener started playing me a lot more, I felt more responsibility and felt that he trusted me more. I think that’s when I got more confident in my game. Not everything is going right now, but I’m feeling confidence.”Almost from the get-go, he found himself on the power play. He’d had tastes of the power play when he was with the Leafs, but he’s been a regular fixture on special teams with the Canucks.“I’m getting opportunities that I didn’t have before.”For the Canucks, the search is about finding players who might help win now but who will become key contributors on a potential contender in a few seasons.Since joining the Canucks, Leivo has been one of the team’s best two-way players. When Leivo’s on the ice, the Canucks are getting 54.9 per cent of the shots.The Canucks don’t have many players who have been in the black by that metric, one that’s long been proven to give you a better chance of winning.Those shots are excellent ones, too, with the vast majority coming from the slot.Defensively, the opposition is also having a difficult time getting quality shots off. Obviously this is about how the five defenders on the ice work as a unit, not just about Leivo, but there’s no doubt he’s made an impact.Green said he’s seen the confidence growing in the winger.“I think he’s getting more confident,” the coach said Wednesday. “He hasn’t played in the spots that he’s playing in the NHL. I think we saw glimmers of it for the first month … then I think he’s gotten more comfortable being in those roles.“I think his consistency — it’s something we’ve talked about with him — I think he’s on a pretty good run of putting some consistent games in.”email@example.com/risingactionNEXT GAME: SundayVancouver Canucks at Vegas Golden Knights1 p.m., T-Mobile Arena, TV: Sportsnet Pacific; Radio: Sportsnet 650 AMCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org