Of all the kids turning pro in the Oilers system this year, Joey Laleggia is the toughest to project into the organization. His NHL equivalency (82GP, 14-23-37) screams ‘get him into the NHL stat!’ but the competition at his position (offensive defenseman) is severe. He is blocked at the NHL level by Andrej Sekera (complete defender will get PP time) and Justin Schultz (offensive defenseman remains No. 1 option for the position). In Bakersfield, the options include Brad Hunt (impact player at that level) and Jordan Oesterle (emerging talent with obvious skills).
- Laleggia on the Oilers: “I’ve been told I’m going to fit in pretty well. I think there’s a pretty good opportunity waiting for me when I get there.” Source
The key for Laleggia in year one pro is at-bats, meaning he may spend time in the ECHL. I have him ranked as the No. 12 prospect, so this kind of handling would be unusual. That said, there are too many bodies on defense in Bakersfield, so something will have to give. Hunt and Oesterle will play, as will David Musil, Dillon Simpson and (at least for the beginning of the year) Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart. Stunning quality and depth for the Condors and their fans, but Laleggia is in a tough spot.
On the other hand, it would be ridiculous to turn our backs on the young man’s accomplishments. He was a very famous college prospect and clearly drew attention to his game.
- Craig Button: “LaLeggia has become a top defenceman for the Pioneers and is one of the best college defencemen in NCAA hockey. He’s very steady, smart, is able to play lots of minutes in important situations and can contribute in multiple areas. He reads the play extremely well, jumps into the attack and generates a lot of opportunities.” Source
The part of his game that gives one pause is defensive. Laleggia’s size and style reminds some of Tyson Barrie and that’s a pretty good hockey player. The defensive side of the game is a major item and he made progress in college.
- Denver University coach Jim Montgomery: “There’s two ways I think he’s become better. Defensively, he eats people up now with the way he plays his position and uses his legs and stick to defend. The second thing, I’ve just been really amazed by his will to win here, expecially in the last six weeks. He’s raised his mental game and his intensity to another level.” Source
Joey Laleggia leaves college hockey having accomplished everything available. I’m not betting against him long term but do think his first season is going to involve travel. How much travel? We’ll see.
- Is he smart enough to play NHL hockey? Yes. Laleggia’s college career saw him quarterback the power play and find ways to become effective defensively despite size issues. He played a lot and played well, implying he’s a thinking man’s hockey player.
- Is he strong enough? That will be a question for sure. Laleggia isn’t going to be a complete defenseman but the job requires him to defend sorties and that will be his main chore during the two-year entry level deal.
- Is he fast enough? Yes. A big item on the checklist, Laleggia can move. I’m not sure how he would compare to Oesterle or Schultz, but we’ll know by the spring.
- What did the scouting reports say about him before draft day? Corey Pronman: Laleggia enters his third draft-eligible season after a very successful first WCHA season where he was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year. He’s a good skater with a great offensive mind who would be a nice shot in the dark pick in the mid-rounds due to his notable offensive upside. He flashes high-end hockey sense with his quick game processing and he’s really effective moving the puck out of his own end and controlling the blue line on the power play. Laleggia has solid puck skills as well, at times showing above average, but he is a much better passer than he is an individual creator. He skates well, moving fluidly in all four directions. His main weakness is his physical game, which is below replacement level. I’ve seen him listed at 5’10″, which is generous in my opinion as he looks pretty small on the ice, and he is not effective at all when he’s engaging. Despite his hockey smarts, I don’t see him as being effective defensively to any notable degree at the pro level.
- That last item makes him sound one dimensional. Yes, but that one dimension is a big deal.
- Will fans like the player? No. Oilers fans don’t like this player type, going back many years. Joey Laleggia’s high water mark in terms of popularity will come before he plays for Edmonton.
- Among the pure offensive defenders, where does he rank on the current depth chart? Justin Schultz has the NHL job and may have it for the rest of the decade and beyond. Brad Hunt and Jordan Oesterle would be the men in front of him in Bakersfield as Laleggia’s career begins.
- What are the odds that Joey Laleggia has a career of 100 NHL games or more? It’s honestly too soon to know. Laleggia is a famous prospect as he graduates and the Oilers clearly like him. That only gets you so far, but the young man’s skill is clearly legit. We’ll know more in the spring.
CONDORS PROJECTED 2015-16