Amherst native hoping to be first-round pick in NHL Draft

We are less than a week away from the 2023 NHL Draft and one athlete from Amherst is a projected first-round pick.
Published: Jun. 22, 2023 at 2:33 PM EDT
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WEST SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- We are less than a week away from the 2023 NHL Draft and one athlete from Amherst is a projected first-round pick. Ryan Leonard lives and breathes the sport of ice hockey.

“It’s everything to me. It’s my dream. I started playing when I was a little kid and I just followed my dream,” Leonard said.

An 18-year-old from Amherst and a longtime Boston Bruins fan, Leonard has been participating in the sport for years, all leading up to him being a projected first round pick in the 2023 NHL draft. He played for the Springfield Junior Thunderbirds and played for two years at Pope Francis Preparatory School. He was then under the leadership of head coach Brian Foley, who recently won the school’s first-ever state championship in hockey. Western Mass News caught up with Foley at Olympia Ice Arena in West Springfield and he told us Leonard is the real deal.

“He works hard. He’s earned everything he has got and every accolade he has got. He is a rare breed. He was our hardest working kid every day in practice for the two years he was at pope,” Foley said.

However, the journey did not stop there for the Amherst native. After leaving Pope Francis at the end of his sophomore year, he joined USA Hockey’s national team development program and, in March, he scored an overtime winner to hand Team USA its first U18 world championship gold medal in seven years. Leonard called ‘the golden goal’ one of the best moments of his young career.

“Just kind of cut to the middle, shot it, and then dreams became a reality. It was pretty cool,” Leonard added.

Now, Leonard is expected to be part of the NHL in a matter of days, where his name could be announced as a top-10 pick and what’s even more exciting? His brother, John, plays in the Nashville Predators organization. Leonard said the possibility of playing with or against his brother is a dream.

“Talked about it your whole life to play with your brother. Training with him is pretty cool, but playing on the same team one day? That would be pretty cool,” Leonard explained.

Should that happen, Foley said he is looking forward to that moment.

“That would be a cool thing for the family. Hopefully, they can get me a ticket for that one…Just the luckiest coach in the world to have a kid like Ryan and his brother, john,” Foley added.

Leonard will be attending Boston College this fall and playing hockey there before he enters the big leagues. You can watch the NHL Draft live from Nashville beginning on June 28 at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

The Leonard brothers will also be helping with a Junior Thunderbirds training camp in August, which will be held at Olympia Ice Arena in West Springfield.