It has been a near meteoric rise for Red Deer Rebels forward Chase Leslie.
Even the word forward might sound a bit foreign to the kid from Camrose, who just celebrated his 17th birthday in August.
After all, almost everywhere you look, the energetic teen is listed as a defenceman. Even on the official Rebels roster, they’ve yet to make the switch.
But there’s no mistaking, Leslie is a forward for the time being and with the way he’s playing, it’s likely he won’t be going back to the blueline anytime soon.
Near the end of training camp, Leslie was moved to forward and he’s stuck ever since. It started with a centering role on the fourth line in the home opener, alongside Jaxsen Wiebe and Jace Isely.
It has since developed into Leslie getting his name called among the starting five against the Saskatoon Blades earlier this week. He was moved up to the wing with 20-year-olds Brett Davis and Cam Hausinger, effectively the Rebels’ top line.
“Obviously, playing with guys like Dav and Haus, it makes the game a lot easier. I pretty much just give them the puck and go to the front of the net. Hard on the forecheck and it just makes the game a whole lot easier. They slow it down nice, they make crisp passes and everything is clean, it’s awesome,” Leslie said.
“I’m an energy guy on that line. F1 on the forecheck and hard backcheck. Get those guys the puck and let them do the work and let their skill take over.”
G – Ethan Anders
D – Ethan Sakowich-Mason Ward
F – Chase Leslie-Brett Davis-Cam Hausinger
Age breakdown…2-2003; 8-2002; 3-2001; 4-2000; 3-1999.
— Les Lazaruk (@Bladesvoice) October 2, 2019
So how exactly does an eighth-round WHL Bantam Draft pick, who was one of the last guys to make the team last season as a defenceman, all of a sudden rise to the top line?
The easy answer is opportunity, but the long answer started about 12 years ago, on an outdoor rink in his hometown.
It was there that Leslie started to develop what he calls one of his better tools. It was on the outdoor rink that the younger Chase honed his skating skills, something that has allowed the former blueliner to transition to the forward ranks so smoothly.
“I’ve been doing power skating forever. My mom used to be a power skating coach. So when I was about five or six, on the outdoor rink, she’d have me out there doing drills and stuff like that. Doing it that young creates a nice foundation. Growing up, every summer I was in more power skating than skill stuff,” he recalled.
“I think when I was younger, that kind of put me ahead of the group, then every coach says something new and you just have to take that and focus on it, then do it until you’re comfortable with it.”
Is those days as a young tyke, Leslie seems to remember getting a little time on forward. But it didn’t last long and he’s been a defenceman also exclusively ever since.
“I think in atom I played a little bit of centre, then I switched. Back then, everybody is just chasing the puck. You have to learn the structure of it from the front end now, it’s been good though,” he said.
“Switching my mindset, to you don’t have to be the last guy back. You can think offensively a lot more when you’re playing forward. You have that second line of defence behind you. Holding onto the puck– actually carrying the puck and letting my speed do some of the work.”
This has RD technically down to eight defencemen, although Chase Leslie (still listed as a defenceman) has largely been playing forward for the last few weeks.
So it's more like 7 D. https://t.co/WB2yuXU8Ip
— Byron Hackett (@RDAbyronhackett) September 26, 2019
Last season, as a defenceman the 16-year-old earned mostly regular time, playing 47 regular-season WHL games, scoring one goal and adding an assist.
In his debut WHL season upfront, he has yet to record a point in five games. His impact has mostly been on the immeasurables.
In the opener, with the Rebels down 3-1 to the Edmonton Oil Kings, it was a spark from Leslie’s line that got Red Deer rolling. Both Isley and Leslie laid big hits in one shift and seemed to ignite the entire group. They got within a goal a short time later.
“I think now that I’m playing forward I can show that part of my game a little bit more,” he said of the physical play.
“With the forecheck when you’re going in hard and you can make the big hit and you’re not too out of position now, because that’s part of the role.”
That was when he was playing centre, a position he prefers over the wing, because it’s more familiar to playing defence.
“It’s different. It’s just an adjustment. It’s like anything, if you want to learn and you want to get better at the position, you will ultimately get better,” He said.
“(Assistant coach Brad Flynn) has been really good about helping me with when I play centre– the defensive end of it. Centre is a very similar position in the D zone. Going to the wing (Tuesday), that was new for me, too. It’s another change and the older guys are helping me with the position.”
While the speedy, winger/centre/defenceman is finding his feet in the new role, he seems comfortable in whatever role he gets and confident that given the chance, he’ll figure it all out.
“I think I just have to keep watching the older guys, I take note of what they’re doing in practice,” he said.
“Just really be a student of the game, ask questions and put my head down and work.”
The Rebels travel to Swift Current to take on the Broncos Friday, before heading to Medicine Hat to face the Tigers Saturday.