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De Leo could be Hawks' next NHL prospect

Strong season finale may put playmaker on track for pros


CHASE DE LEOThe Portland Winterhawks recruited Chase De Leo away from the collegiate ranks in 2011, thanks to then-star center Ryan Johansen.

Apparently, Johansen bugged De Leo until the kid from Southern California decided to visit Portland.

“He messaged me every day on Facebook,” De Leo says. “He said, ‘Get your butt up here and stay at my house.’ So, I flew right up, and I lived with Johansen.”

De Leo stayed with Portland during much of the 2011 playoff run, signed with the Western Hockey League team, and has enjoyed much success through his first three years.

This year, he tallied 39 goals and 42 assists for 81 points — a great season as scouts watched him and evaluated him for the upcoming NHL draft.

If you play for Portland, you get drafted, or so it seems. Just think of the forwards De Leo has watched or played with in four years: Johansen, Nino Niederreiter, Brad Ross, Ty Rattie, Sven Bartschi, Nic Petan, Brendan Leipsic, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Taylor Leier — all NHL draft picks, and high picks. Not to mention first-round defensemen Joe Morrow, Seth Jones, Derrick Pouliot and the recently acquired Mathew Dumba.

Many others have played for Portland and gone to the pros. It’s almost expected.

In the Central Scouting

Bureau’s midterm rankings, De Leo ranked 26th among North American skaters, followed by the Winterhawks’ Alex Schoenborn (57th), Keegan Iverson (64th) and Dominic Turgeon (130th).

The Hawks have sported a first-round NHL pick for four consecutive years — Johansen, Niederreiter, Morrow, Bartschi, Pouliot and Jones are on that list. Could De Leo make it five years in a row?

“Much like with Nic last year, with small players it’s about team preference,” says Mike Johnston, Portland general manager and coach. “Certain teams will like what he offers. Another will like somebody who’s bigger.

“I think he’s got the ability to go in the second or third round, but he could sneak into the first round, depending on who wants him.”

A strong playoff run would help the draft stock of the 5-10, 175-pound De Leo.

He also says it’s been easy to impress scouts, because they show up to every game.

“Players who have played here have been top-notch,” he says. “It definitely helps out. There are eyes on the game the whole time. It’s your time to shine. But you have to bring it every night.

“You try not to think about (scouts), and you don’t hear much about it. With the talent we have, I’m sure they’re here all the time.”

De Leo, who hails from the Los Angeles suburb of La Mirada, says he worked on his body in the offseason, and he’ll continue to try to add weight.

“As a shorter guy, you have to be more powerful and explosive,” he says. “I’m not going to outmuscle guys. I have to get my compete factor up, and outcompete, and hopefully that pays off.”

De Leo has a lot of Petan’s characteristics in his game — quickness on skates, accurate shot, good stick work and passing, vision.

“He’s a playmaker,” Petan says.

“He’s a really good shooter and passer,” adds Leier, his linemate along with Bjorkstrand. “His confidence — I think he’s gotten a lot more confident throughout the season.”

De Leo says he hasn’t felt any pressure. From Southern California, De Leo’s an outgoing guy, although “he’s not a surfer kind of guy,” Leier adds, “he’s a more lay-on-the-beach kind of guy.”

Says De Leo, of playing in his draft year: “I’m having fun and enjoying every moment.”