Vancouver Giants defenceman Mazden Leslie and Vancouver Canucks rearguard Carson Soucy wound up in the same training group this summer — and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Leslie, 18, was passed over in June’s NHL Draft. He produced offensively with the Giants, with 12 goals and 50 points in 66 regular season games last year, but scouts had concerns about his play in his own zone.
Soucy, 29, had been skipped over in his first draft year as well. He was chosen after the following season, taken in the fifth round and No. 137 overall, by the Minnesota Wild in 2013. Soucy now has 250 NHL games under his belt. He was one the main free agents the Canucks brought in this off-season, inking a three-year deal with a $3.25 million cap hit per season after spending the past two campaigns with the Seattle Kraken.
Leslie, Soucy and a handful of pros and juniors from the region trained together in Wainwright, Alta., which is about an hour’s drive from Leslie’s family home in Lloydminster, the city that straddles the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“He’s a really nice guy. And it helps having a guy like that out there and being able to watch everything that he does,” Leslie said of Soucy earlier this week after a Giants practice in Ladner.
“And he didn’t take the route of being a high draft pick. He has worked his way up there.”
Leslie did get an amateur tryout to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ entry in a prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich., earlier this month, and the 6-foot, 200-pound right-shot blue liner performed well enough there that the Leafs brought him to their main training camp.
Leslie missed the Giants’ 4-1 season-opening win over the Victoria Royals on Friday because he was still with the Leafs, but Toronto released him Monday and sent him back to Vancouver.
He’s slated to play Friday (7 p.m., Sportsnet 650) when the Giants visit the Kamloops Blazers. The Giants then host the Wenatchee Wild Sunday (4 p.m., Sportsnet 650) at the Langley Events Centre.
“Guys are a lot bigger, stronger, faster. Everything about it is a level up,” Leslie said of his foray against the pro ranks. “It was really important to me to go there and show that I can play with older guys and guys who were drafted.”
Michael Dyck, who ended a five-year run as the Giants head coach this summer to become an assistant with the Maple Leafs’ AHL Toronto Marlies farm team, was on the ice regularly when Leslie was there.
“We did a lot of his drills. It was good to be familiar with them already,” Leslie said.
Leslie was a “C” ranking on Central Scouting’s initial players to watch last season, which pegged him as being a Round 4-6 selection. He was No. 80 among North American skaters in Central’s midseason rankings and No. 125 in that same tier in the year-end ones.
He characterizes missing out on the draft as a “chance to refocus.” He admits that he needs to be more dialled in defensively and that there are times he needs to make the simple play coming out of his own zone rather than trying to make the highlight-reel one. Leslie says that the Maple Leafs brought all that up with him before he left.
There’s a bravado to his game that gets him up the ice and into the rush and allows him to use his vision and instincts. If Leslie could harness it all consistently, there’s something that’s bound to be appealing to those in the pro ranks.
Vancouver general manager Barclay Parneta brought in Manny Viveiros to replace Dyck as bench boss and Parneta upgraded their defence, landing Marek Howell, 17, from the Moose Jaw Warriors for forward Ethan Semeniuk, 18, and three WHL Draft picks, including a 2024 first rounder.
The plan has been for Howell to pair with Colton Roberts, 17, which then puts Leslie with one of Vancouver’s 20 year olds. Vancouver had five 20s on their roster as of Wednesday afternoon and three are defencemen: Carson Haynes, Logen Hammett and Brenden Pentecost. The Giants need to get down to the three 20s on their entire roster by Oct. 10.
Also in the mix for extended minutes on the Vancouver back end is returnee Damian Palmieri, 19.
The WHL doesn’t publicizes ice time, but Leslie was likely second among Vancouver defencemen last year, behind since graduated 20-year-old Dylan Anderson.
The Calgary Flames reassigned Vancouver centre Jaden Lipinski, 18, who was a fourth-round Calgary draft pick this summer, to the Giants earlier this week and he should be in the lineup this weekend. Forward Samuel Honzek, 18, who was a first-round pick of the Flames, remains in Calgary’s camp
Recommended from Editorial
Olympics of Michael Bublé vs. Drew Scott? New Vancouver Giants minority owner would be game
BCHL set for regular season after controversial summer split from Hockey Canada
WHL news: Prince George Cougars look like team to beat in B.C. Division
Bookmark our website and support our journalism: Don’t miss the news you need to know — add VancouverSun.com and TheProvince.com to your bookmarks and sign up for our newsletters here.
You can also support our journalism by becoming a digital subscriber: For just $14 a month, you can get unlimited, ad-lite get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.