It hadn’t been a secret that the Penguins wanted to bolster their blue line. Though they tried to patch it up after losing Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi this off-season by bringing in guys like Jay McKee, it just wasn’t performing at the level they had hoped. They were allowing too many goals, allowing too many leads to slip away and not closing out opponents as they had done in the past.
Ray Shero, who has long danced to his own drummer, didn’t wait for the NHL’s trade deadline to start getting his team ready for the stretch run and playoffs. He closed the first post roster freeze deal, sending a 2nd round draft pick in the 2010 draft to Florida for defenseman Jordan Leopold.
Leopold was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round (44th overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. He has registered 36 goals and 91 assists for 127 career points, including a career-high 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) with Calgary in 2003-04. He had 10 assists in Calgary’s run to the Stanley Cup Final that season.
That run to the Stanley Cup Final, along with his play this season in Florida made him an attractive option for the Penguins. They really liked the fact that he can move the puck, join the rush and even log some power play minutes if need be. However, it was his play against players such as Alex Ovechkin that really seemed to stand out to Ray Shero and the Penguins coaching staff.
“Jordan Leopold played against Alex Ovechkin every shift last time Florida played Washington,” head coach Dan Bylsma said in his post practice comments yesterday. “When his coaches decided who plays against the other team’s top line, it was Jordan. That may not be the case for us. … I think we’re getting a guy that will help us defend against the other teams’ good players. He’s proven that and has been counted on to be that for his team this year.”
Ray Shero made finding an additional defender a priority. He has long made it his mantra to have 8 to 10 NHL caliber defensemen at his disposal, especially late in the season. He used the Olympic break to start kicking tired and gauging prices for the defensemen that were on the market.
“From our meetings and talking to our coaches, our first priority was to try to add a defenseman,” Shero said as he met with the media on Monday. “Since Saturday I’ve been actively trying to do that. I was more of a caller trying to see the value for players, who was going to be available and what the cost was. This deal helps us solidify the back end.”
Leopold knew that he would most likely be on the move, along with many of his teammates, but he had no idea where he would end up until yesterday. He seemed to be happy with the deal.
“I’m excited,” Leopold told penguins.nhl.com. “I knew it was a possibility that I would get moved out of Florida. The question was where and when. That question was answered (Monday). I’m really excited to join the Penguins. They’re a dynamic team and have been for the last few years. They’ve had a lot of success and deservedly so.”
I have long thought of Leopold as more of a puck moving, offensive defenseman, but he has really diversified his resume over the years. He is a very capable penalty killer, isn’t afraid to throw his body around on the ice, and can still join the rush. The interesting thing is that he immediately falls into third place on the list of hit leaders on the Penguins blue line.
“To get a guy who plays against the other team’s top line, a guy who skates like he skates, joining and supporting the rush, going back for pucks, and a guy who moves the puck like he moves it is a unique opportunity to add to your team, whether it’s now or in the summer time,” Bylsma said. “That’s what we think we’re getting and I think that adds to our defense. That adds to the way we want to play. You’re also getting a guy that went to the Stanley Cup Final. I think it says a lot that Calgary re-acquired him after that. I think that is what you’re adding to the back end and to the team.”
Leopold arrived in Pittsburgh last night and was slated to be on the ice with his new teammates this morning. He is very excited for the opportunity and looking forward to helping the Penguins make another long playoff run.
“This was a good fit for me,” Leopold told penguins.nhl.com. “They battled hard to get where they are, and are fighting in the standings. I’m excited to be here. It’s an opportunity for me to make a playoff push and Stanley Cup run. But first thing is first, we have to finish out the year here, the final 20 games or so. Then we can get going to make a playoff run.”
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In case you are looking to get that new jersey stitched… Leopold will wear # 4 when he makes his Penguins debut.