Sunday, March 31, 2013

Leopold excited for another opportunity at playoffs

Veteran defenseman was acquired for pair of
draft picks, will debut Monday in Minnesota

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Jordan Leopold. But the newest Blues defenseman has been through this routine before with it being his sixth National Hockey League stop.

The 32-year-old Leopold, acquired from Buffalo Saturday for a 2013 second-round pick and a conditional 2013 fifth-round pick that can turn into a fourth round selection should the Blues win a playoff round, got the call from Sabres general manager Darcy Regier prior to the Sabres facing the Washington Capitals. He will wear No. 33 for the Blues.

(Buffalo Sabres photo)
New Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold will make
his debut Monday in Minnesota.
"I was pre-game napping yesterday to get ready and play the Capitals," Leopold said Sunday afternoon after flying in and taking a physical. "I woke up and got a call from Darcy Regier and (he) quickly said I ended up trading you. ... I really didn't sleep last night. I think I finally dotted out about 1:30 (local time). I got up at 4:30. It wasn't a good, quality night of sleep. After two short flights, here I am."

Leopold, who coach Ken Hitchcock said will be in the lineup when the Blues play at Minnesota Monday night, was able to have dinner with his three daughters ages 9, 7 and 4. Then it was off to his new adventure and trying to get the Blues (17-14-2) into the playoffs after a couple disappointing seasons with the Sabres, who've had high expectations.

"It was a couple tough years," said Leopold, who's in the final season of a three-year, $9-million contract. "You look at last year and then this year the start we got off to wasn't the way we pictured it. You get to this point of the season and of course the trade deadline looms. Guys are going to come and go. Of course, UFA's are the first to go. It's just a matter of time to see where I landed and when. I'm really excited to be here."

It is a fresh start for Leopold, who's also had stints with Calgary, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Florida.

"I'm really excited," said Leopold, who has two goals and eight points in 24 games this season. "You look at where I just came from and where we are now, we're fighting for a playoff spot. It's a good opportunity for me. Hopefully I can be able to contribute and help the team accomplish that goal."

Leopold who struggled at the start of the season, was a minus-8 in the first nine games he played this season. But he is a plus-2 over his last 15 games and has four points in eight games since returning from an upper-body injury.

"When you get moved, you can't look at the team didn't want you," Leopold said. "You have to look at the new (team) looking forward ... the new team really wanted you, and it's true. It's a fresh start for guys. This is a fresh start for me. I got off to a rough start this year in Buffalo and ended up playing my best hockey when I came back from injury a few weeks ago. I look to just step in here and do what I've been doing lately."

Hitchcock plans to insert Leopold into the lineup playing alongside Kevin Shattenkirk and if it needs adjustment, the team will plan accordingly.

"He's a steady, kind of multi-dimensional defenseman," Hitchcock said of Leopold, who has played with David Backes, Scott Nichol and Chris Stewart on previous teams. "He's good on the power play, either in a 2-1-2 or 1-3-1 setup. Either way, he's fine. He's played both in Buffalo.

"He's very good at transitioning the puck. He closes. He's got good mobility at closing defensively 5-on-5. ... He's got good transition speed, he's got good transition instincts. He sees the ice really well. He's a steady guy that's going to really help us."

"He was one of the vocal leaders for the short time I was in Colorado," Stewart said of Leopold, who were teammates during the 2008-09 season. "He's a veteran guy who can make plays. I think he keeps the game easy. He doesn't try to do anything that's out of his personality. That veteran presence is definitely going to help down the stretch.

"He's one of those guys you don't notice in the game, but when you check the scoresheet, he had a goal and an assist and probably a plus-2. He's going to log some quality minutes for us."

With Blues general manager Doug Armstrong making the trade for Leopold, it's an indication the Blues, who came into Sunday clinging to the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, are in fact going to do whatever they can to solidify their position and go for it.

"We've never doubted that we're out of this," Shattenkirk said. "I know Army feels the same way. He obviously has a lot of faith in this team. We all believe in this team. To see a move like that, it's a good sign.

"It makes you feel confident, and it's something that we need. I think it's going to work out well."

For Shattenkirk, he'll do whatever's necessary to try and get acclimated with his new partner after stints with Wade Redden in recent games.

"It takes a little time, without a doubt," Shattenkirk said. "It's hard for me to say because I'm going to be the young guy and he's going to be the experienced one. It's a tough situation there to be talking to him but just try to talk through as many plays as we can, as many plays as we can go through. Once you get that communication level down, I think that's where the chemistry really starts."

(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Jordan Leopold (pictured) is expected to play with Kevin Shattenkirk
Monday night against the Wild. 

Leopold, who has 65 goals and 202 points in 610 career games, will try and do his part.

"My game is moving the puck and getting it to the guys that can do something with it, getting out of our own end and playing some good defense and being able to contribute on the other end if the situation arises," Leopold said. "I try to keep things pretty simple. I'm not a flashy player. I try to complement my d-partner and make him better out there."

Leopold can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. What lies ahead is anybody's guess.

"We'll see," Leopold said. "We've just got to take one step at a time. I'm not looking for any commitment by any means. I have to go out and play and do my thing. They can assess if it works, if it doesn't work. By all means, I hope it's going to work. I think it's a good fit for me. I think I can complement some of the players here."

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