The exact number of NHL teams is five in the last eight years, if you count this season with the Buffalo Sabres. Jordan Leopold first broke into the NHL in late 2002 with the Calgary Flames, where he played for three years, including an especially strong 2003-04 campaign during which the Flames went to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In 2006 he traveled south to join the Colorado Avalanche, where he was mired by injuries and didn’t even last three years before being traded back to Calgary midseason in 2009.
Later that year he found himself with another club, the Florida Panthers, and played 61 games before being sent to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. On July 1st, 2010, he left the Penguins as a free agent and joined the Sabres by way of a three-year contract.
It shouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Leopold has had little luck in finding a single franchise to settle down with. But after playing 22 games in 2010, it looks like he might have found a home for himself in Sabreland.
He’s currently third on the team in points with 14, five of those being goals. The same five goals have him sitting atop the league for defensemen alongside four other players. Even when he’s not scoring, he can regularly be found driving to the net and taking shots; he’s only had three games all season where he hasn’t registered a shot on goal.
Leopold’s offense is especially valued because it’s coming at a time when the Sabres need it. He has seven points [two goals, five assists] in the last nine games, during which Buffalo has posted a 5-3-1 record, by far their best stretch of the season.
“Having [him] back there as a mobile defenseman who can really move the puck helps out,” said Tim Connolly.
In addition to the offensive threat he brings, Leopold has been just as solid in his duties as a defenseman. He’s leading the team in average time on ice with over 24 minutes a game, and his +4 rating is only behind Steve Montador’s whopping +14 for defensemen.
But where Leopold has really stood out is in his discipline. Leopold has only taken five penalties all season for a total of ten minutes, allowing him to be on the ice as often as possible. By staying out of the penalty box, he’s deservedly landed a huge role on the Sabres penalty kill, which has improved drastically over the last several games.
“This team wanted to get a little bit more physical, a little grittier and I think I can bring that to the table,” Leopold said before the start of the season.
He’s brought his own tenacity to the Sabres in more than one way, and he’s done it without becoming a regular target for the referees. Leopold is playing an ideal style of hockey, the kind that can inspire a team which is still finding its rhythm.
This will be hugely beneficial for Tyler Myers, who is now paired with Leopold and is gradually working his way out of his sophomore slump.
Other young defensemen such as Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler, both of whom are growing as NHL players, can also learn so much from what Leopold is doing right on the ice. Myers and Sekera, especially, are defensemen that have their own offensive flair for the game.
Right now they have an ideal rolemodel to follow in Leopold on how to put points on the board while carrying out their primary task of tightening down the opposition’s offense.
His early success with the Sabres is what a lot of fans were hoping for out of Craig Rivet when he was first signed to the team two years ago. While in Buffalo, Rivet has not been able to ignite the offense he showed at times while playing in Montreal and San Jose, while his +/- stats and average time on ice have plummeted since arriving to the Sabres. Things have gotten really ugly for the Captain this season where he’s actually been benched for a couple of games.
If Leopold continues to play as soundly as he has thus far, it might be a sign that the Sabres have finally found the guy that they need to be a leader for this club. It’s very early in his tenure here, but he’s a prime candidate to one day wear the “C” on his jersey after what he’s accomplished already.
“I have to go out there and play hard and do what I do,” Leopold said back in October, “Any way I can contribute, I’m going to do my best and that’s what you ask for.”