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Leppard bolts like a flash in Tampa

Local hockey player shows skills in Lightning camp
SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT Whistler's Jackson Leppard showed off his skills at Tampa Bay Lightning development camp in Florida last week. Photo by Scott Audette/Tampa Bay Lightning

He normally plays in northern B.C. but, for a few days anyway, Jackson Leppard found himself suiting up in Florida.

Shortly after going unselected in June's NHL Entry Draft, the 18-year-old Whistler product received a call from the Tampa Bay Lightning inviting him to their development camp from June 26 to 30.

"The day after the draft, I got a call and they asked if I wanted to go to Tampa for development camp and I obviously said yes," said Leppard. "I'm really grateful for the opportunity. I had a really good time."

Leppard, who currently suits up for the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars, said much of the camp was fairly standard, with fitness testing, power skating, and two days of three-on-three action that served as a skills showcase.

In the three-on-three event, Leppard was on a team with 2018 second-round pick Gabriel Fortier, 2017 third-rounder Alexey Lipanov, 2015 third-rounder Dennis Yan and 2018 seventh-rounder Radim Salda. Though the squad struggled to a winless record, Leppard appreciated the wide-open style that allowed him space to show his abilities.

"I'm a pretty skilled player as well, so I thought it was good to show that side of my talents. It was good to have something different than just a regular game," he said. "They were all close games and we had a good time."

Though the camp was held at the Lightning's practice facility in suburban Brandon, Fla., Leppard was impressed with the turnout of Tampa's dedicated fans.

"It was more than I expected. At least 100 came out on the tournament days for the three-on-three. I took some pictures (with fans) and it was a pretty cool experience," he said.

Leppard said he was invited back to Tampa Bay's prospect camp, which will be held in September. With a strong performance there, Leppard could be asked to stay on for main training camp alongside superstars Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.

"That's my goal right now," he said. "I'll show what I have and play my best, whether it's in main camp or prospect camp, with the chance to get a contract. It's something to work for."

While Leppard was thrilled to get the opportunity with any team, it was gratifying that it was the Lightning that had taken interest, as Tampa is a perennial contender, having advanced to the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four seasons.

"They have some really good, talented guys there and the whole staff and their facilities there are top notch," Leppard said.

In all likelihood, Leppard will be back with the Cougars next season as a veteran on an emerging team. It was a long year in 2017-18, where Prince George finished last in the Western Conference, though Leppard was sixth on the team with 36 points, including 15 goals.

"Next year with the Cougars, we'll have a pretty young team. It'll be a big year for me," he said.