TORONTO – Some might think that playing for five teams in less than two years is an indication you’re just hanging on.
For Buffalo Sabres defenceman Jordan Leopold, it’s a sign he’s a wanted man.
Leopold, who has been traded three times since March 2009, signed a US$9-million, three-year contract with Buffalo in the summer and believes he’s found a home with the Sabres.
“It’s one of those things where you bounce around a lot and never know where you’re going to end up,” Leopold said after Saturday’ 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 2002 Hobey Baker Award-winner as U.S. college hockey’s top player has carved out a nice career for himself despite the frequent changes of address.
Leopold was moved at the trade deadline in 2009 and 2010 and in the deal in the summer of 2009 that sent Jay Bouwmeester from Florida to Calgary.
While it’s nice to be wanted, Leopold is enjoying the stability that Buffalo has offered.
“It’s been great,” Leopold said. “Once they showed interest in me in the summer, it’s been a really good feeling.”
The 30-year-old scored the go-ahead goal for Buffalo late in the second period Saturday. It was his 12th of the season, tops among Sabres defencemen and good for fifth on the team.
Leopold’s 34 points are a career high and have him in the league’s top 25 among defencemen. His goal Saturday was his first in 12 contests, but also set a personal best.
“It’s been a good year,” Leopold said. “As of late it’s been a little bit tougher, but we’re winning as a team and that’s all that really matters.”
No Buffalo blue-liner has played more minutes than Leopold and only reigning NHL rookie of the year Tyler Myers gets more special teams ice-time. Leopold has become a key cog to a defence corps that has the Sabres holding down one of the final two playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.
The native of Golden Valley, Minn., is a slick skater and playmaker known for a strong first pass and moving the puck up the ice quickly.
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff has shown a lot of confidence in Leopold this year. He was on the ice playing crucial minutes Saturday, including the final minute of the game when Buffalo was desperate to tie the game.
But Leopold is not just an offensive threat. Of his 21-plus minutes against the Leafs on Saturday, Leopold spent more time on the ice killing penalties than any other Sabre.
For maybe the first time in his NHL career, Leopold is comfortable in his role and in his skates in Buffalo.
“I found a home and feel wanted,” he said.