In the span of a calendar year, Lucas Lessio went from the depths of emotion — an injury erased a chance to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships — to the heights — the 20-year-old skater played in his first National Hockey League game.

In between, and since, the 6-foot, 1-inch, 200-pound native of Maple, Ontario has worked meticulously at his game to both overcome that adversity, and to achieve his next goal: a full-time roster spot in the NHL.

“I just have to work hard on developing and hopefully get back there as soon as possible,” Lessio said.

If the past 12 games are any indication, that phone call may not be too far off in the future. Since Christmas, Lessio has 15 points in 12 games, and has dazzled on occasion with spectacular displays of offense.

“That’s the kind of player I am. I have to make offensive plays,” Lessio said. “Not just for myself, but for the team, that’s the role I have here. I have to sometimes take risks to try and get the offense going.”

“Part of the credit for the way he’s played the past nine or 10 games has to go to Miele, as well,” Pirates coach Ray Edwards said. “He’s been playing on a line with one of the best players in the league, getting top minutes, and that will help with anyone’s confidence.”

Still, Lessio has plenty of talent in his own right.

“He has dynamic abilities,” Edwards said. “And one of the best attributes he has is his ability to gain separation from people on the ice, to create space for himself. He’s able to explode with the puck, and find space without the puck. And when you’re playing with the top playmakers, that helps.”

Lessio has never been the top scoring forward on a team, maxing out at 34 goals and 59 points in 66 games with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League in 2011-12. But he’s been consistent, perhaps the biggest reason the Phoenix Coyotes drafted him in the second round of the NHL Draft in 2011.

“He’s really worked hard at playing within the structure of what we’re trying to do as an organization, and that has paid off,” Edwards said. “It makes it easier to play well when you’re in tune with what we’re trying to do together as a team.”

“That’s just me as a player, how I work,” Lessio said. “I tend to play better as the competition and the level rises. And that’s certainly not saying anything bad about the OHL at all. That’s a great league, but it’s not pro hockey, and you have to raise you game even more here, and I think I naturally do that as the competition increases.”

Lessio suffered torn tendons in his hand after being cut by a skate in October 2012 in a game against the Plymouth Whalers, ending his hopes to make the roster for Team Canada that season.

“That was a really big injury for me,” Lessio said. “I missed a chance at World Juniors because of that, but I had to put all that behind me when I came back and had to focus on getting better in the second half.

“That was also my first real injury, as well. It really felt good to get back to playing at full strength.”

When he returned, Lessio made an immediate impact, climbing to ninth on the team in scoring with 34 points in 35 games. The Generals bowed out of the playoffs in the second round, and the Coyotes wasted little time in assigning one of their top prospects to their AHL club in Portland.

“That’s invaluable for those guys,” Edwards said. “You come down here, you’re part of the group, you get to meet some people in the organization so when you come back, you know people in the organization, some of the players, the coaches, the trainers. Plus, you get the whole summer of rookie camps and development camps, too. That’s why you see every organization does it that way. The transition from junior to pro is hard enough on its own. That’s why we do it.”

Lessio fit right in, earning a goal and three assists in eight games with the Pirates, including a few in the playoffs.

“To get that first pro goal like that, it was a big weight off right away,” Lessio said. “It really helped take pressure off coming into my first full season of pro hockey, because I wasn’t still looking for that first one.”

The quick ascent continued through the summer. He attended rookie camp and development camp with the Coyotes, and earned a spot in the team’s NHL preseason camp.

And he made the team, skating in three games with the Coyotes at the start of the campaign before being sent back to the AHL.

“It’s really just a matter of being more comfortable with everything,” Lessio said. “It was hard at first, especially starting the year in the NHL and then coming down here right away.”

The pro game was different, and it took some adjusting.

“He plays with high energy; he’s a very fast player,” Edwards said. “He can be dynamic at times, but at the same time, some of the things he does don’t work out, too. And that’s when you have to be able to recover and play in both ends.”

“I think the biggest thing this year is maturing as a player,” Lessio said, “concentrating on every game, coming to play every night with consistency.

“Also, doing the little things, playing hard in the defensive and neutral zones. I have my offensive game going right now, but if I slow down there, I need to have all of the other aspect of my game going, too.”

That, Edwards said, is something toward which he is working.

“He’s been digging into those aspects of the game as well,” Edwards said. “In our organization, you have to be able to do that. Whether it’s sitting with coaches and working on videos, or working extra in practice, he’s doing those things.

“Of course, we have to realize, he still has a way to go here,” Edwards added. “But he’s made the effort in those areas.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.