The Montreal Canadiens shipped out Christian Thomas in exchange for Lucas Lessio, a prospect-for-prospect swap. In typical Marc Bergevin fashion, the trade came out of nowhere.
The former teammates both were second-round picks from the Oshawa Generals, and both have experienced roller coaster development curves. While Thomas enjoyed a solid NHL stint and is on pace to set career-highs in the AHL, Lessio's production has fallen for the past three years.
A History of Up and Down Seasons
Despite being the seventh-overall pick in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection, Lessio chose to spend the 2009-10 campaign in the CCHL (Jr. A) to maintain his commitment with the University of Michigan. He tallied a record-setting 72 points in 41 games, which remains the highest total by a 16-year-old rookie in league history.
Lessio chose to head to the OHL the following year, recording 27 goals and 54 points in 66 games, seeing action with Alain Berger, a one-time Habs prospect. His excellent rookie season paid off when the Arizona Coyotes drafted him 56th-overall in 2011.
Lessio’s Draft+1 year was statistically unimpressive, but overall was a tremendous season on a low-scoring Generals team. Lessio spend time on a line with the player he was traded for, Christian Thomas, and the duo co-lead the team in goals with 34.
Unfortunately, Lessio’s Draft+2 season was less than impressive. While injuries limited him to just 35 games, he failed to take the next step offensive that he undoubtedly had the skill to do.
With his stock plummeting, Lessio did what seemed unthinkable at the time: he made the Arizona Coyotes roster out of camp. While he lasted just three games, Lessio’s NHL stint kicked off a fabulous AHL rookie year, in which he tallied 29 goals and 25 assists in 69 games, good for fourth in the AHL-rookie scoring race. While backed by a near-17% shooting rate and the hot-hand of Andy Miele, a top AHLer, his scoring ability and two-way play continued to be highly impressive.
Since that incredible rookie year Lessio has managed just 43 points in 73 games since. Lessio’s points-per-game has dropped every year in the AHL, from 0.78 to 0.63 to currently 0.50 this season. However, he did manage a decent 26 game NHL stint last season, tallying five points while averaging 12:45 of ice time, highlighted by his first NHL goal:
A Blazing North-South Winger
Lessio’s skating is high-end, if not borderline elite. With an upright skating style, tremendous top-end speed, powerful first step acceleration, and solid edgework, Lessio barrels up the ice in a hurry.
An excellent motor compliments the skating ability, allowing Lessio to forecheck hard and backcheck with purpose. He thrives in the tough areas, utilizing his stocky frame win battles and protect the puck. The Maple, Ontario native is a solid two-way player, demonstrating good positional play and awareness, but has a tendency to exit the defensive zone too early.
Around the net, he’s tough to handle thanks to his determination, lower-body strength, and quick hands in tight. It’s in this area of the ice that Lessio obtains the majority of his points. His shot is above-average, but a lack of accuracy diminishes his long-range scoring ability. However, in tight he can elevate the puck in a hurry and needs little room to fire a shot. His one-on-one ability with defenders is limited, but he does possess a slick set of breakaway moves.
While clearly a capable AHL scorer, Lessio lacks hockey sense and creativity. Although tactically solid, he lacks creativity and vision to his game. His execution unfortunately does not match his blazing speed, as he often appears hesitant with the puck, even in the minors. Tunnel vision and an average saucer pass continue to limit Lessio’s upside to a fairly unidimensional north-south scorer.
What to Expect?
Despite the limitations, Lessio clearly brings good upside to the table. When placed in a complementary role, Lessio thrives. His powerful north-south game allows him create and capitalize on chances and engage himself in the play.
Thomas brings a high-end shot, which is the best scoring attribute that either player has, while Lessio brings a more well-rounded game with a slightly more diversified offensive toolkit. Perhaps the best part of this trade for Montreal is that Lessio is not waiver eligible until next season, unlike Thomas, giving them more decision time.
Considering Lessio's ability and the decimated IceCaps line up, he should slide into the top-six immediately and become an impact player. While his NHL upside is likely limited to a complementary player, he could be a good one.