Chase Leslie isn’t your dad’s defenceman.
Instead, the Red Deer Rebels 16-year-old blueliner is part of a revolution, a move away from the slow-moving, big-bruiser that used to occupy the position.
Only 17 games into his WHL career, the slender, five-foot-10, 172-pound defender is showing how smaller, dynamic puck-moving defenceman are ushering in a new era.
“The way he contributes the most is he gives us that consistent, puck-moving defenceman,” said Rebels’ assistant coach Brad Flynn.
“He gets pucks going north in a hurry. His battle and compete level every practice has grown. He’s going to be a very dynamic player in this league. He needs to stay positive and contribute and play inside of his game.”
The Camrose, Alta. native earned an unexpected roster spot out of training camp in the spring and has carved a niche during the first half, mostly on the Rebels’ third defence pair.
While he hasn’t recorded a point and only has six shots on goal, his growth in the defensive zone– mainly not being there very long is another quiet statistical evolution on the blueline.
Mostly, that comes from his ability to move the puck quickly and separate offensive players from the puck with savvy, rather than bone-crushing hits.
“He’s not the biggest but he’s in the trend of the new-age defenceman where he’s a separator. He does a real good job of separating the man’s stick from the puck. What he gives up in size at the end of the day, his stick blade is still the same size as everybody,” Flynn said.
“He does a lot of good by going stick on puck and disrupting plays where he’s not overly physical. He makes up for that with stick battles and winning little one-on-ones. Just trying to put himself in position to move the puck before he gets involved in a physical confrontation.”
In that sense, the young defenceman has picked up plenty of tricks at the WHL level. One teammate he’s liked to watch early on, is 2018 sixth-round pick of the Dallas Stars, Dawson Barteaux.
“We play a pretty similar game and in a couple years, I’d like to be in a similar position as him,” Leslie said.
“Obviously, I have a lot of work to do before I get to that point. Watching (Alex Alexeyev and Barteaux) in practice, the little things they do. Staying inside of the dot and not crossing over when you’re playing a one-on-one, so guys can’t beat you.”
After last year when Leslie played 31 games and in all situations for the Sherwood Park Kings in the Alberta Midget Hockey League, this season has been much different.
Consistent playing time has been his biggest obstacle. In October he played five of 10 games, while in Nov., he played just four of 11. Through the first six games in December, he played all but one contest. He thinks that will help as the year goes on.
“It’s different from last year. You’re playing a lot in midget, but it’s all part of it. You have to work your way up the ranks and the older guys help me out with little tips– mental stuff and staying focused. It’s been good and everybody has been real nice about it,” said Leslie, who was an eighth-round pick of Rebels in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
“The hardest thing is not playing every night. Even that, it’s not terrible. You learn how to handle it as the year goes on. The best thing, when you get into games and you get on a roll, you get some confidence built up. I was rushing the puck a bit more at the end.”
During the next two weeks, Leslie and the rest of the Rebels’ blueline will have big shoes to fill.
With Alex Alexeyev playing for Russia at the world juniors in Vancouver, every Rebels defenceman is going to be relied upon to play more.
Alexeyev is a minutes horse for Red Deer, playing in all situations. Veterans like Barteaux, Jacob Herauf, Ethan Sakowich and Carson Sass will do much of the work in that regard, but Leslie and fellow youngster Ryan Gottfried have to step up as well.
Leslie said Thursday the group is aware of the task ahead and excited to carry the load.
“I think we do. With him gone, he’s obviously a huge part of our d-core. We’re all going to have to step up but I think everybody is excited about that too. Like ‘hey, I can do this as well’,” he said.
Red Deer will play three games in three nights this weekend, with home games Friday and Saturday against the Vancouver Giants and Edmonton Oil Kings respectively, before a road date Sunday with Edmonton.