Between being drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights, attending the team's inaugural prospect development camp and taking part in his first training camp before being sent back to his junior team, the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats, it was a whirlwind summer for Jake Leschyshyn.
Selected by Vegas with the 62nd pick in June, Leschyshyn was one of five players the Golden Knights took during the draft's first two rounds. The moment he became part of that draft haul, the 18-year-old forward was tagged as one of the young prospects expected to help the NHL's newest team establish its base and build the sport in a new and untapped hockey market.
Fortunately, Leschyshyn doesn't need to look too far to find someone else who has been saddled with that responsibility.
"He's talked to me a little bit," Leschyshyn said. "Just about the change from one culture to another."
The "he" Leschyshyn is referring to is his father, Curtis Leschyshyn, who played 1,033 NHL games with seven teams. Selected third overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1988 entry draft, the elder Leschyshyn is no stranger to the kind of transition -- and expectations -- that his son currently faces. A defenseman with the Hartford Whalers, Curtis Leschyshyn's life changed considerably when the team moved south and became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997.
Like his son, Curtis Leschyshyn is also familiar with the nuances of joining an expansion franchise looking to build from the ground up. He was selected by the Minnesota Wild in the expansion draft when the club joined the NHL alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000. But it was the move from Hartford to Carolina that proved to be a far more drastic change for Leschyshyn, who played three seasons in Carolina before being selected by Minnesota.
"I can remember it was in August the first time that we went [to Carolina]. It might have been 95 degrees and 100 percent humidity. It was real hot," Curtis Leschyshyn said. "It was obviously new for everybody. Not just the players, but the fans and the ownership wanted to make it and grow it there. Everyone was kind of in the same boat."
Leschyshyn and his teammates struggled mightily in their first year in Carolina, finishing last in the Northeast Division. They would rebound in a big way the following season, finishing first in the newly formed Southeast Division and making the first few inroads toward building hockey in the Carolinas. The gains made in a very new warm-weather hockey market still resonate today for Lechyshyn, who retired after the 2003-04 season. He currently lives in Saskatchewan, where he helps coach local players, including his 16-year-old daughter, Anna.
"It was a beautiful spot. Obviously something we'll always remember," he said of his time in Carolina. "Jake was born there. We'll always have ties to North Carolina."
Jake Leschyshyn was only 2 years old when his family left North Carolina. But it seems oddly appropriate that an NHL expansion team in Las Vegas would at least partially tie its future to a player born in Raleigh after his NHL defenseman father ventured south to help build a new hockey market.
From the moment he arrived in Las Vegas for Golden Knights development camp, the sense of newness was everywhere for the younger Leschyshyn, who was housed -- along with fellow Vegas prospects -- at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa located just a short walk from the Golden Knights' practice facility. In true Vegas fashion, the young players attending camp were required to walk through the mammoth property, including its sprawling casino, to get to practice.
"It really speaks to Vegas. We spend lots of time at restaurants there, so you have to go through the casino to get there," Jake Leschyshyn said during Golden Knights camp. "It's pretty unique. Coming here for my first NHL camp is special, but it's the first for the entire team. That's pretty cool. It's been really fun. I'm trying to enjoy every second of it."
Forced to wear a red no-contact jersey at Golden Knights camp as he recovered from February knee surgery, Leschyshyn was still too young to partake at the tables at the Red Rock casino. He was instead happy to enjoy the pool, restaurants and even a bowling alley available to Vegas' prospects at the property. No matter what stories his father might have shared from his own NHL career, this was still a unique experience for Leschyshyn and everyone else involved.
"One of his first comments was, 'It doesn't feel like a hockey city, but it's an incredible city.' I think the majority of people think the same thing when you fly in and you see all the lights and casinos and stuff like that," Curtis Leschyshyn said. "He said the facilities are great. He was excited about all the training and all the on-ice stuff they did there. He said it was a wonderful experience."
Of course, before Jake Leschyshyn can even start building hockey in Sin City, he'll first have to make the Golden Knights' roster. Given that he has at least one more season of junior hockey, it could be a little while before he gets the chance. So far this season, Leschyshyn has four goals and five assists, and is a minus-5 in 16 games with the Pats. He had 40 points in 47 games with the Pats last season.
But as Golden Knights general manager George McPhee stockpiles draft picks, it's clear he's hinging the hopes of this franchise on young prospects like Leschyshyn who aren't likely to make their NHL debut for at least another year or two. And if Jake Leschyshyn gets the call from the Golden Knights to help make Las Vegas a bona fide hockey town, he'll be able to draw on his father's unique NHL experiences.
"I think he's pretty level-headed with it. Knows he has a lot of work to do. It's something he's going to have to put some time in to learn and develop," Curtis Leschyshyn said. "For me, that's the most important thing. That he's prepared to work and learn and listen to the advice that Vegas has to give him. Moving forward, it depends on how his development really works. Who knows? He's a young kid and hopefully he gets there sooner than later. But it's all up to him."