The road to the Promised Land is about 5km long.
Twice, 20-year-old Josh Leivo has left the Toronto Marlies for the quick commute up the Gardiner Expressway to the Air Canada and a spot with the Leafs.
Leivo was called up to the Leafs Thursday in the wake of a foot injury to incurred by Joffrey Lupul at practice on Thursday. David Clarksons’ 10-game suspension and an ankle sprain incurred by Nikolai Kulemin netted Leivo a six-game stint with the Leafs. Leivo scored once, a beautiful top-shelf tally against Carolina, added an assist and finished plus one.
A third-round pick by the club in the 2011 draft, the six-foot-two, 195-pound Leivo has rocketed up the development chain by relentlessly on his skating and strength.
The Innisfil, Ontario native has always been able to score. He posted 32 and 29 goal-seasons in junior for the Sudbury Wolves and Kitchener Rangers.
“When he got drafted, we knew he had the mind and the stick and the skills but he didn’t have the strength. He was weak,” said Jim Hughes, the Leafs Director of Player Development.
“He put the work in with our strength coach Anthony Belza and (skating consultant) Barbara Underhill. The stronger he got, the more efficient his skating became.”
“My skating was pretty bad,” Leivo said. “I think a lot of people saw that. Obviously you can always improve on your skating. Barb’s done great things with me. I can’t thank her enough.”
Despite his youth, the Marlies used Leivo in three post-season games last spring. That experience and a growing maturity helped prompt his return.
“To get noticed you have to play a simple hockey game and play to Randy’s strategy which is get pucks deep, finish your checks and play great defensive hockey,” Leivo said. “If you just focus on the little things you can be pretty successful. Obviously the skills you have offensively will come to you anyway.”
“This is just the beginning,” Hughes said. “He’s going to need some AHL time for sure but the comparison we always used when he was playing in junior was Joffrey Lupul. He’s got the same intangibles. He’s slippery, he protects the puck, he can slide off people.
“Now he has the NHL stick, the NHL mind, he thinks very quickly on the ice,” Hughes said. “He has good offensive instincts and he loves the game. He’s a dog on the bone. He hunts the puck.”