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UMass’ John Leonard ‘shaking a little bit’ after being drafted by San Jose Sharks

  • UMass freshman and Amherst native John Leonard was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the sixth round of the NHL Draft, Saturday. GAZETTE CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass freshman and Amherst native John Leonard, left, was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the sixth round of the NHL Draft, Saturday. GAZETTE FILE

  • UMass freshman and Amherst native John Leonard was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the sixth round of the NHL Draft, Saturday. COURTESY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS



@kylegrbwsk
Sunday, June 24, 2018

John Leonard ignored his phone when it rang on the fifth hole at Springfield Country Club.

The Amherst native was playing a round of golf Saturday with UMass hockey teammate Brett Boeing, and former Cathedral teammates Zac Steigmeyer and Joe Brosseau.

“It’s an unwritten rule not to be answering your phone and talking on the phone when you’re playing golf, just kind of disrespectful,” said Leonard, who just completed his freshman season with the Minutemen.

His phone kept ringing and eventually he answered. San Jose Sharks scouting director Tim Burke was on the other end. Burke informed Leonard the Sharks selected him in the sixth round with the 182nd overall pick of the NHL Draft.

“I was speechless at the time, shaking a little bit,” Leonard said.

The rest of the foursome forgave his faux pas and hugged him on the course. The news surprised Leonard, who played at what was then Cathedral in Springfield and with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers before coming to UMass. He didn’t have any contact with the Sharks prior to the draft.

“I had no idea who I was going to get drafted by or if I was going to get drafted. I haven’t had an interview with them or anything on the phone, so it was a surprise,” Leonard said. “But one of the best surprises I’ve ever gotten in my life.”

San Jose acquired the 182nd pick through a Feb. 25 trade that sent Brandon Bollig and Troy Grosenick to Nashville.

Leonard is the first UMass player to be drafted immediately following his freshman season since the Sharks selected Justin Braun, who still plays for San Jose, in 2007. UMass defenseman Mario Ferraro was picked 49th overall by the Sharks last year.

“He texted me and said how excited he was, and I returned the favor,” Leonard said. “He said it’s a special moment and enjoy it, but now the real work begins.”

Leonard will travel to San Jose for the Sharks’ development camp July 2-7.

“They’ll be able to get a look at me, get a grasp of where I’m at,” Leonard said.

He’ll be back in Amherst for the 2018-19 season. NCAA rules allow a player to be drafted and still go to college. The selecting franchise retains a drafted player’s rights throughout his college career.

Leonard led UMass in scoring in 2017-18 with 28 points on 13 goals and 15 assists. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward was named the Hockey East Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week twice each.

“His ceiling is very high, and San Jose realized the same thing. He’s just scratching the surface,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “It’s really hard to score goals, it’s not hard for Johnny to score. His release on the shot is professional level.”

But he’s by no means a finished product. Leonard will work on becoming stronger and making his offensive game more well rounded.

“He’s realizing how strong he can be in the corners and on the puck. But he’s never going to play in the NHL unless he becomes a more complete player,” Carvel said. “He’s made huge strides this year, and we’ll continue to work feverishly with him on how to play without the puck.”

The Minutemen now have four NHL draft picks on their roster: Leonard and Ferraro (Sharks), Ivan Chukarov (Sabres) and Cale Makar (Avalanche). The Minutemen won their first postseason series since 2007 and reached the Hockey East quarterfinals with only two seniors on the roster.

“I expect some special things to be done this year in Amherst,” Leonard said. “We’re all looking forward to it.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.