John Leonard made an instant impact in his NHL debut for the Sharks on Thursday night, earning his first two points in the league in a 4-3 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Sharks coach Bob Boughner really liked what he saw from the 2018 sixth-round draft pick, and hopes he’ll continue to improve on the defensive end as his debut season wears on.
“For a young guy he has a lot of good about his game, we pointed out a couple things defensively last night,” Boughner told reporters in a video conference Friday. “Just subtle things that you might not catch unless you rewatch the tape, just turning his back towards the puck in his own end, things like that and just little intricacies is defensively more than anything.
“It’s not even, I wouldn’t say a weakness, you just try to teach a young guy good habits, but he’s got a ton of good habits. His wall play is really impressive for a young guy, under pressure he makes plays, he doesn’t panic. I think you can see his offensive instincts and his speed through the neutral zone.”
Although Boughner was complimentary of the rookie’s play against the boards, Leonard himself mentioned that as an area he was zeroing in on during his first NHL game.
“A big area last night that I started to focus on a lot was those wall battles as a winger, just inside our blue line making sure those pucks get out,” Leonard said.
Leonard got his first assist in the first period, finding Tomas Hertl for his second goal, extending the Sharks' lead to 2-0.
Leonard later found Evander Kane in the third period and gave the Sharks a 3-1 advantage.
The rookie played on a line with two of the Sharks’ most seasoned veterans in Hertl and Kane, and Boughner hopes the trio's success will rub off on some of their teammates.
“I thought there was some chemistry," Bougner said. "I thought that all three guys were guys that get pucks to the net. I really like that line, that’s nice to have that early on to see a line connect, I’d like to see that from a couple other lines. Again, we haven’t played in ten months, so there’s going to be some patience but there’s also going to be a short leash.”
Boughner emphasized that Leonard separated himself as the “best young guy in camp,” and Thursday night’s win seemed to provide some compelling evidence.
The 22-year-old will get another chance to hit the ice against the Coyotes on Saturday afternoon, but it’d be nearly impossible to consider his NHL debut as anything other than a resounding success.