Wed Dec 05 06:00pm EST
While growing up in Winnipeg, Brendan Leipsic had his share of critics doubting how far he could go in hockey because of his smaller stature.
"Brendan has grown up hearing about his size being an issue," says Brendan's father, Greg Leipsic. "A couple coaches certainly pegged him as a fourth liner, but when he got the opportunity he made the most of it and worked his way up in the lineup."
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound centre never let his critics get in his head. His confidence in his game and his strong supporters helped him take his doubters' comments with a grain of salt.
"I didn't really listen to the people that would doubt me because of my size," says Brendan. "I have always believed in myself and have had other people that believed in me."
Despite standing out as a star with the Winnipeg Monarchs in his bantam draft year, Leipsic didn't garner a lot of attention from scouts. It was suspected that his lack of popularity in the 2009 Western Hockey League bantam draft was because of his undersized frame.
"In the months before the bantam draft, there were two, maybe three scouts that spoke to Brendan or myself," says Greg. "Brendan had a strong Bantam year and I thought maybe more scouts would have chatted with Brendan and us, but only a couple ever did and only once. A couple WHL scouts have told me that Brendan's size was the reason they didn't encourage their teams to draft him."
Leipsic's size didn't stop Portland Winterhawks' Manitoba-based scout Brad Davis from giving him a strong look. He spent a lot of time scouting Leipsic and talking to him and his family. Davis was the main reason the Winterhawks chose him 112th overall in the '09 bantam draft.
"Brad Davis spoke to us early and often," says Greg. "In the end, the Hawks drafted him and Brendan will be the first to tell you he is so very lucky to have ended up in Portland."
A long-time friendship with Mack Heisinger, the son of Winnipeg Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger, and a familiarity with his family also played a role in the Winterhawks drafting Leipsic.
"In Brendan's bantam draft year, when the draft was taking place Hawks GM Mike Johnston phoned (Craig Heisinger) Zinger and asked if they should take Brendan with their pick in the 6th round," says Greg. "Luckily for Brendan, Zinger told Mike something to the effect of "take him now."
Leipsic, 18, broke out last year in his sophomore season with the Winterhawks. He was greatly rewarded for his 28-goal, 58-point season, being drafted 89th overall by the Nashville Predators.
"It was an unbelievable feeling to be drafted by Nashville," says Brendan. "I didn't go to the draft, but it was just so cool to see my name pop up next to the Predators."
This year, Leipsic has gone from an impact player to a star in Portland, notching 20 goals and 45 points in 25 games. He was named the WHL's Player of the Month in November.
"I've been happy with how my season has been going," says Brendan. "I've been able to be in the right place at the right time to finish off plays and I have been clicking with my linemates."
Leipsic was fortunate enough to see firsthand what it takes to make it in The Show in his early minor-hockey days. A family friendship gave him the opportunity to skate, workout, and hangout with NHL all-star Teemu Selanne.
"It was really cool being able to talk to and skate with someone as good as him (Selanne)," says Brendan. "He's been a big influence on me. I was able to learn a lot from him growing up and see what it takes to get to the NHL."
The Leipsic's connection with the Selanne family stems from the wives. While Teemu was living in Winnipeg and playing for the Jets in the early '90s, Kathleen Leipsic developed a friendship with his wife Sirpa Selanne.
"When Teemu was playing in Winnipeg, my wife Kathleen met Teemu's wife Sirpa at a workout gym and from there we all became friends," says Greg. "We had a lot of good times over the years."
Their friendship has remained strong over the years.
"When Teemu played in Winnipeg (with the Ducks) last winter, Sirpa and all the kids came up here to see that game and stayed with us," says Greg. "Selanne's boys loved skating on the lake behind our house, little different than California."
Unfortunately for 42-year-old Selanne, if the NHL lockout doesn't end this year, it could essentially steal the last year of his career from him.
Leipsic does not believe the lockout will corner Selanne, who has scored 663 goals and 1406 points in 1341 NHL games, into retirement, though.
"I think Teemu stays in such good shape that he could play another year after this one," says Brendan. "He works very hard and is so talented that I don't think the lockout will determine whether he retires or not."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen