Amherst’s Ryan Leonard goes to Washington Capitals at No. 8 in NHL Draft

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-06-2023 12:29 PM

Stars and stripes suit Ryan Leonard, apparently.

The Washington Capitals, with their red white and blue color scheme, selected the Amherst native with the eighth overall pick in Wednesday’s NHL Draft at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. Leonard played the past two seasons with USA Hockey’s National Team Development program, winning a gold medal for the U.S. at this spring’s IIHF U18 World Championships.

“I think I’m a guy that can change the way the game is played in a couple seconds with either a hit or goal, or anything like that. I’m a power forward that brings it all,” he said.

Leonard told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan moments after being drafted that he wanted fans in Washington to know about his competitiveness.

“That’s who I am,” he said.

She also asked him about being compared to the Tkachuk brothers, Matthew and Brady, who play a bruising, physical brand of hockey in the NHL.

“Those guys are truly special players, and to be compared to those guys is really honoring,” Leonard said.

ESPN’s analysts universally lauded the pick. John Buccigross began calling for Leonard’s selection when the Philadelphia Flyers were on the clock at No. 7. Many pre-draft mocks projected Leonard would land in Philly.

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“The name Ryan Leonard has been talked about as the ideal Flyer. He’s got muscles in his face,” Buccigross said.

Philadelphia went with Russian standout Matvei Michkov, a talented player that slipped due to the length of his contract in Russia and oft-referenced geopolitical tensions. That left Leonard for the Capitals at No. 8.

The graphic displaying his name next to No. 8 and the Capitals logo listed his hometown as “Northhampton,” a typo that references the hospital he was born in rather than where he grew up across the Calvin Coolidge Bridge in Amherst.

“This guy falls into the category of guy that will help you win in the playoffs. His game translates to springtime hockey. He’s a sturdy guy, he hits, he gets in there, yet he has skills and he can finish,” said ESPN analyst Brian Boucher, a former Flyers goalie. “When I watch him and the way that he plays, this is the type of guy that you win with.”

Leonard won a lot with his NTDP line mates Will Smith and Gabe Perreault. All three will play at Boston College in the fall. NHL rules allow players to be drafted and still play college hockey.

Smith, a Lexington native, went No. 4 overall to the San Jose Sharks. Leonard and Perreault hugged him on his way down from the stands to the stage.

“Those are my brothers. I love those guys. They’re the best. I love hanging out with them,” Smith told Kaplan. “I love playing with them. I can’t wait to hear their names called.”

The Chicago Blackhawks selected Connor Bedard with the first pick in the NHL draft on Wednesday night, kick-starting a hopeful new era with a highly skilled offensive forward who’s drawn comparisons to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.

Bedard became the second No. 1 pick in Blackhawks history, joining Patrick Kane, who went first overall in 2007 and helped form the core of a team that won three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015.

Though Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson declined to reveal who he would take first since winning the draft lottery in May, Bedard was considered Chicago’s target all along among a prospect class filled with talented forwards.

“It’s incredible. I couldn’t be happier,” Bedard said.

The less predictable portion of the draft began with the Anaheim Ducks selecting Swedish forward Leo Carlsson, who was regarded as the top European skater. With the third pick, the Columbus Blue Jackets took Michigan forward Adam Fantilli, who became the third freshman to win college hockey’s top award, the Hobey Baker Trophy.

Reporting by the Associated Press was used in this story.]]>