Chase De Leo has always been privy to the success rate of players drafted into the NHL from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
It was a big reason he decided to join the team in 2011-12 following a successful stint with the Under-16 Los Angeles Selects back home in California.
The native of La Mirada was a ninth-round pick (No. 192) of the Winterhawks in the 2010 WHL bantam draft after connecting for 27 goals and 83 points in 28 games for the L.A. Selects bantam AAA team that would advance to the national championship.
"One of the big reasons I picked Portland was the good coaching staff and the variety of players they have on the roster," De Leo told NHL.com. "Having an opportunity to practice with and against guys like Ryan Johansen (Columbus Blue Jackets, No. 4, 2010), Nino Niederreiter (New York Islanders, No. 5, 2010) and Sven Baertschi (Calgary Flames, No. 13, 2011) in my first year was an incredible experience."
De Leo was one of the youngest players on the roster as a rookie and spent much of the season as a fourth-line player while learning the ropes. He still impressed with 14 goals, 30 points and a plus-12 rating in 69 games. Prior to his second season in Portland in 2012-13, teammates Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh Penguins, No. 8), Brendan Leipsic (Nashville Predators, No. 89) and Taylor Leier (Philadelphia Flyers, No. 117) were tabbed at the 2012 NHL Draft.
The 5-foot-9, 177-pound center excelled in his second season alongside those players with 18 goals, 56 points and a plus-28 rating in 71 games. He also had five goals, 17 points and a plus-12 rating in 21 playoff games for the eventual WHL champion.
"Chase is a real competitor," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "He gets involved and is quick with his hands. He was one of two young centermen to help Portland to the Memorial Cup tourney and that's impressive. He's a player that you better watch and pay attention to because you can never count him out."
In June, De Leo watched as Seth Jones (Predators, No. 4), Nicolas Petan (Winnipeg Jets, No. 43) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (Columbus Blue Jackets, No. 89) were chosen among the top draft-eligible prospects.
De Leo said it was great to be able to spend a season with Jones.
"[Jones] came to our team and he was obviously a great add-on," De Leo said. "He wasn't really that talkative to me, and I didn't want to ask him questions because he got enough of that with the media. He really led by his actions on the ice; he's an incredible hockey player."
De Leo is expected to be one of the team leaders this season for the Winterhawks, playing big minutes in every situation. He is fourth on the team with nine points (four goals, five assists), trailing only Bjorkstrand (18 points), Petan (16 points) and Leier (10 points).
"It was great to be coming back this year with linemates Bjorkstrand and Leier," De Leo said. "We had good chemistry at the end of last year and it'll be a lot of fun in 2013-14. As a team, we just want to get to where we were last year in the Memorial Cup. I plan on doing everything I can for the team to get there."
De Leo is regarded by scouts as a hard worker capable of doing the little things that go unnoticed on the score sheet but are critical to victory.
"Chase is another buzz saw out of Portland," NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "He's a very good skater and pays attention to detail at both ends of the rink. He has quick hands with good vision and offers nice playmaking capabilities. The thing I like is that he really competes in all areas and in key situations and plays bigger than his size."
Anyone who knows De Leo is well aware he plays much bigger than his stature, something he takes great pride in doing.
That's what first caught the eye of linemate Leier.
"Everyone talks about the little guys, but he's fast, he's got quick hands, he can score, he can pass," Leier told NHL.com. "I don't really believe in that small factor. Petan went 43rd overall. The kid is lightning fast and can put the puck in the net. I'm sure he'll go high in the draft. He's a good player and a good linemate."
De Leo is a big fan of NHLers Tyler Ennis of the Buffalo Sabres and Cory Conacher of the Ottawa Senators.
"They're smaller players but they don't let their size defeat them at all and they're hard workers and battle and know what it takes to win," De Leo said. "I model my game to theirs, trying to do the little things right and trying not to let the size be a factor. I just play bigger than I would appear."
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
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