EL SEGUNDO, CA — Traditionally, players who are selected by National Hockey League teams in the later rounds of the annual draft are overlooked until they move up a team’s depth chart significantly, and defenseman Zachary (Zach) Leslie, who was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the sixth round (178th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, is no exception.
Indeed, there was no media coverage when he was announced as the Kings’ sixth round pick. No television, radio, web or print interviews. But fast forward a few weeks, and like so many of the other Kings prospects, the 6-1, 172-pound native of Ottawa, Ontario jumped at the chance to get noticed at the team’s annual Development Camp in July.
“[Development Camp has] been hard,” said Leslie. “I didn’t know what to expect coming in, [since it’s] my first camp. It’s been hard, it’s been good, but it’s been a lot of fun, too.”
What Leslie, who is a left-hand shot, found most difficult at the Development Camp was the same thing that all just-drafted players run into.
“For any first-time player, the speed, the size, and the strength of all the players, is a big, first step that you don’t really think about,” he noted. “You know it’s there, but you don’t really understand it until you get on the ice with them.”
But once he was on the ice, there were even greater challenges, given the fact that some of the players he was skating against had American Hockey League experience.
“They’ll expose your weaknesses,” Leslie emphasized. “You find out quickly what your weaknesses are, and what you need to do to fix them.”
“The coaches help with that,” Leslie added. “That’s the biggest thing—you learn what your weaknesses are, and how to fix them.”
Indeed, Leslie got plenty of opportunity to discover what he needs to work on. But what about his strengths?
“I’m a player who can make a good first pass, and move the puck up the ice to help the offense, and play solid in my own zone, as well,” he said. “I think I’m really good at creating offense off of the turn, and re-groups, and things like that. That’s my main game.”
Former Kings right wing Nelson Emerson, who is in charge of player development for the Kings, took notice of Leslie’s puck moving abilities during the Development Camp.
“I didn’t know him before he got here, but I read that he’s an offensive defenseman who can move puck up the ice, and that’s what I see,” said Emerson. “One of the benefits he has is that he moves very well, laterally, and he plays with his head up, so he’s able to make that first pass.”
“If you’re a forward, you love when the defensemen are able to see things up the ice,” added Emerson. “That’s something he does well, and we’re looking forward to working with him, that’s for sure.”
Also like so many young prospects, keeping things simple is something Leslie will have to focus on going forward.
“[I need to work on] getting my head up, and making simple plays,” said Leslie. “That’s the biggest thing, being simple. As a defenseman, you can’t get in trouble if you’re making simple plays. That’s the big thing they want us to focus on.”
Mobility, puck handling and puck moving skills were all aspects of Leslie’s game that attracted the attention of Kings’ amateur scouts. But they also did their homework on Zach Leslie, the person.
“They always want to know what kind of person you are,” Leslie noted. “They want to know if you’re a hard-working person. They preach hard work and physicality all the time. They wanted to know what kind of person I was, mainly, to make sure they were picking a good player, and a good person for the community.”
Of course, his play last season was also a factor.
“He had a good year,” said Emerson. “He started slow, as a lot of them do. But as the year went on, he really started to play well.”
Video Interview With Zach Leslie via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
Frozen Royalty’s Zach Leslie Coverage
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