OK, it’s that time of year. Hockey’s so close that you can almost taste it. By my count, there are 10 days remaining before the Wings kick off their season in Sweden (which is still entirely too many, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel). In order to pass the time, I’ll be posting a player profile every day until then (in alphabetical order, because I’m one of those people). I want to make it very clear that these are not predictions, because I do not, under any circumstance, make predictions. They’re simply my thoughts on each player’s performances last season, and my hopes and expectations for them this time around. Today’s subject:
2008-2009 Regular Season: 13 GP, 5-4-9, +/- 5, 6 PIM
2009 Playoffs: 7 GP, 0-2-2, +/- 2, 2 PIM
Season Highlight: His first NHL goal.
Season Lowlight: Being the best player Mike Babcock ever had to cut.
Like most of his Grand Rapids teammates, Leino didn’t get a whole lot of time with the Wings during the regular season last year. He didn’t get into many games during the playoffs either, but what we saw of him has left a lot of Wings fans eagerly anticipating seeing him on the big club full time this season. His first NHL goal was nothing short of spectacular, and the nine points he posted in thirteen games during the regular season seem to indicate that we can expect good things from him.
This season, he’s going to be counted on to replace Jiri Hudler’s production. Based on what we saw from him last year, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be able to do this…if he plays on one of the scoring lines. If he ends up playing fourth line minutes, we’re not going to be nearly as impressed with his point totals as we would otherwise. He’s got the skill set to be a good scorer, and with any luck, his defense will improve as he spends time with the Wings. I was a little concerned with Ken Holland’s comments that Leino had gotten bored in Grand Rapids, but I don’t think it’s really going to be an issue.
One of the great things about Leino is that even though he’s considered a rookie, he’s 25 and has experience not only in Finland, but also in the playoffs. He’s one of the reasons why I refuse to be disheartened by the free agent losses the Wings experienced this summer.
If you need any more reason to look forward to seeing him in the lineup regularly, recall Mike Babcock’s quote from last year after Leino was assigned to Grand Rapids:
"This is the best player I've been involved in sending to the minors, I can tell you that," Babcock said. "He's got a nose for the net, goes to the net, dominant on the cycle, makes great passes. He's a Red Wings type player. Leino, I think he's going to be a scoring machine."What he needs to do to make me happy: Make me forget about Jiri Hudler.