The Blues are feeling much more confident with their team moving forward after Saturday’s acquisition of defenseman Jordan Leopold. Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong has long been pursuing a defenseman to add to his team. The move on Saturday leaves management and the team’s coaching staff excited about the options.
The Blues were willing to part with a second-round draft pick, along with a conditional fifth-round pick in order to acquire Leopold, who fills a gap that has persisted for over a year.
Leopold was notified of the trade Saturday by Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier as he awakened from his pre-game nap. Leopold had a sleepless night and arrived in St. Louis after two short flights, he told reporters. This comes after Leopold began to believe Buffalo was going to be his home.
“I thought things would work out differently (in Buffalo), but they didn’t. I still spent two and three-quarter years there. My kids are ingrained in the community; I was too, but that is what they know as home," he said. "They will be staying there for now to finish up the school year, but I will be visiting them off and on. When the summer comes we will have to re-assess and see where our new home will be; hopefully it will be here.”
The move came four days before the April 3 trade deadline, but not a moment too soon for the Blues, who have lost four of their last five and have fallen in the standings with only 15 games remaining in the season. While the Blues have two of the NHL’s most promising young defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, they have struggled to find suitable partners for the two. The team is hoping that Leopold is the solution to that problem. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock plans to pair Leopold with Shattenkirk and adjust accordingly after. The team currently has eight defensemen on the roster, which provides a lot of flexibility when it comes to defensive pairings.
“We will start Leopold (with Shattenkirk) and then we will see if he fits. If he does, good; if not, then we will move him with ‘Petro’. We have flexibility; we can play (Barret) Jackman with either guy and be satisfied. He just gives us another pair that can play against good teams.”
Leopold admitted that he hasn’t had much of a chance to see either Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk play this year, but he certainly is aware of their skill.
“When you look at this year, I didn’t even know the Western Conference existed until yesterday,” Leopold joked. “We haven’t seen them and you don’t see many highlights. This season is so compact that we don’t really get to watch what is going on around the league. I know who (Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk) are, of course. They have some talented players here as well as some gritty players; they have a little bit of everything.”
Sunday was Leopold’s first day with the team, and he admits that he’s a bit anxious to meet his new teammates. One thing Leopold made abundantly clear is that his goal is to help the Blues win the Stanley Cup, and he is ready to do his part.
“I’m really excited. When you look at where I just came from and now we are fighting for a playoff spot,” he said. “It is a good opportunity for me and hopefully I can be able to contribute and help the team accomplish our goal.”
Hitchcock has observed Leopold many times before and likes what he has seen. Hitchcock is not an easy guy to impress, but he certainly thinks highly of Leopold. It is certainly conceivable to believe that Hitchcock was asked his thoughts on the defenseman before the Blues acquired him.
“He’s a multi-dimensional defenseman,” said Hitchcock. “He’s very good at transitioning the puck. He’s got good mobility to close defensively five-on-five. He’s got good transition speed, good transition instincts and he sees the ice really well. He’s a steady guy that is really going to help us.”
“He killed penalties in Buffalo but they kill quite a bit differently than we do so it might be a couple of practices before we get him integrated into killing penalties. But from a five-on-five, power-play standpoint, he is going to help us.”
Leopold is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Armstrong expressed a desire to re-sign Leopold if he feels the defenseman is a good fit. The same desire is shared by Leopold, though he realizes it is much too early to think that far ahead.
“We just need to take it one step at a time. I’m not looking for any commitment. I’m going to do my thing and they can assess if it works or if it doesn’t work. I hope it is going to work. I hope it’s a good fit for me and I can complement some of the players here.”
Leopold has had a rough season to date. He has only eight points (two goals, six assists) in 24 games and missed 10 games due to an upper-body injury. Not always is a trade taken in stride by a player, but Leopold, who is no stranger to deadline dealings, is choosing to look at the trade in a positive light.
“When you get traded, you can’t look at it as a team didn’t want you but that the new team really wanted you,” said Leopold. “It’s a fresh start for guys. It’s a fresh start for me. I got off to a rough start this year, but I look to step in here and keep doing what I’ve been doing (to be successful) lately.”