On Monday, December 3, 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded Josh Leivo to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Michael Carcone. While Carcone was in the midst of another solid season for Utica, many fans were left wondering how Jim Benning had winkled Kyle Dubas into trading an NHLer—and a former highly-rated prospect—for a career AHL player.
This is how.
Josh Leivo’s Ranking As A Prospect Over The Years
Josh Leivo was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, at 86th overall. The 2010/11 OHL regular season saw Leivo put up just 30 points in 64 games for the Sudbury Wolves—but then he exploded for 13 points in eight playoff games, explaining his somewhat lofty draft position.
Leivo’s offensive eruption continued in his Draft+1 season—also with the Wolves—as he put up 73 points in 66 games and earned a late one-game audition with the Toronto Marlies. Despite this success, Leivo was ranked as the 19th best Maple Leaf prospect by HockeysFuture in 2012.
He continued to pile up the points in the 2012/13 OHL season, though a trade from Sudbury to the Kitchener Rangers partway through the year slowed him down some. He still managed to finish with 73 points in 63 games, with 12 more to follow over ten playoff games. After all that junior action, Leivo earned a lengthier pro audition—playing four regular season games for the Marlies and three more in the playoffs, and finishing with a respectable three points. Predictably, Leivo skyrocketed up the Maple Leafs’ prospect rankings, with HockeysFuture having him at eighth overall by early 2013.
Leivo At The Pro Level
The 2013/14 season is when Leivo really made his presence felt in the Toronto organization. Building on his previous auditions with the team, Leivo took the Marlies and the AHL by storm. He finished fourth in team scoring with an impressive rookie total of 42 points in 59 games, and he played his first seven NHL games while scoring two points in the process. With some legitimate pro success under his belt, Leivo again leapfrogged other prospects in the Leafs system—by the fall of 2014 HockeysFuture had him at second overall, with William Nylander taking the top spot.
It’s probably fair to say that 2014 is the year in which Leivo’s stock within the Maple Leafs’ organization hit its peak. After the 2014/15 season, he’d plummeted in most rankings of Toronto’s prospect cupboard—dropping from second to eighth overall in Sportsnet’s estimation. Leivo’s production with the Marlies did regress to just 32 points in 51 games after a 9-game stint in the big league resulted in a single goal, but his sophomore slump isn’t the only reason his stock dropped.
At this point in Leivo’s career, the Toronto Maple Leafs began a youth movement in earnest. As Leivo was surpassed by younger prospects at the AHL level like Nylander, Connor Brown, and Brendan Leipsic, the Leafs added players like Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, and Jeremy Bracco in the 2015 Entry Draft. The prospect cupboard was starting to get full, and Leivo was already starting to be squeezed out—but Toronto’s lack of depth at the NHL level would soon create an opportunity for Leivo to move up to the big leagues.
The 2015/16 season saw Leivo bounce back nicely, racking up 48 points in 51 regular season games and then 12 more in 15 playoff games as the Marlies made a decent run. Leivo also received his longest and most successful NHL audition yet with 12 games and an impressive five goals—but no assists to go along with them.
Why Couldn’t He Crack The Maple Leafs?
After that, Leivo was pretty much a full-time NHLer—in terms of his roster spot, that is. As the Leafs continued to add younger prospects to their system, Leivo’s development became less of a priority. A number of players with greater potential—including Marner, Nylander, Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, and Auston Matthews—appeared on the scene as a cavalcade of rookies. As a result, Leivo spent most of the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons in the Toronto pressbox as a healthy scratch, playing just 29 games total, and the loss of his waiver eligibility in 2017 meant he couldn’t be freely sent down. Leivo was in a tough place.
Although he still signed an extension with the team by November of 2017, by February of 2018 Leivo was asking for a trade. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas elected to hang on to Leivo and make a handshake agreement instead. Dubas later reflected that “I gave them my word that if there was a situation coming up where he would not be in the lineup night in and night out, we would avoid that and we would try to find a spot for him where he would have a great opportunity.”
As the 2017/18 season opened, Josh Leivo was the major beneficiary of the #NylanderWatch, sliding into the roster spot that Nylander had vacated. Leivo dressed for 27 games through October and November—nearly doubling his career total in the process—though he didn’t receive much opportunity from Mike Babcock at just over ten minutes of average icetime.
With Nylander finally putting pen to paper on November 30, the writing was on the wall for Josh Leivo and the Toronto Maple Leafs. True to his word, it seems as though Dubas flipped Leivo to the first team that asked about him, and that lucky caller was Jim Benning.
And that’s the long-and-short of how Josh Leivo went from being the second-highest rated Toronto Maple Leafs prospect to being traded for a player most Vancouver Canucks fans didn’t know existed.
Can He Still Succeed In Vancouver?
Josh Leivo’s development path as a prospect for the Toronto Maple Leafs was normal—even above expectations at times—until he started to become a regular pressbox fixture. Those circumstances—combined with an ongoing influx of new forwards—conspired to keep Leivo out of the lineup and stall his development. In short, Leivo was pushed off of the Toronto roster by younger, better wingers.
Fortunately, that’s not going to be as much of a factor with the Canucks—and that’s putting it mildly. Bo Horvat has been flanked by the likes of Tim Schaller and Sam Gagner thus far in the 2018/19 season, which means that Leivo should receive an immediate top-six opportunity in Vancouver—something he never really got in Toronto. And if his Tuesday debut with the team is any indication, it’s an opportunity that he intends to make the most of.