Salavat Yulaev Ufa of Russia’s KHL announced today they’ve signed winger Josh Leivo for the 2023-24 season. Reports out of Sweden emerged earlier this month that Leivo was close to signing with SHL club MoDo Hockey, but those discussions obviously fell through.
This will be Leivo’s first season overseas after appearing in NHL games in each of the last ten seasons. Now 30, the Ontario native has seen a fair bit of playing time in both the NHL and AHL since the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft. He would turn pro full-time with the Maple Leafs and AHL Marlies in 2013-14 and was a highly productive AHL player for three seasons before becoming more of a mainstay on the NHL roster – although, famously, that didn’t translate into much playing time. Under then-head coach Mike Babcock, Leivo would play in just 56 games for Toronto over the course of three seasons from 2016 to 2019 despite rarely seeing any AHL assignments, spending most of his time sitting as a healthy scratch.
After finding himself in the minors for nearly all of 2021-22, Leivo once again returned to the NHL ranks on a more consistent basis last season with the St. Louis Blues. He made 51 appearances in a bottom-six role compared to just two games for AHL Springfield. Leivo gave the Blues some solid production in the process, recording four goals and 12 assists for 16 points – his highest total since he notched 19 points in 36 games with the Vancouver Canucks in 2019-20.
The Blues didn’t offer Leivo a contract at season’s end, however, and he hit the unrestricted free-agent market on July 1. They looked to replace his role internally, giving more playing time to younger talents such as Nikita Alexandrov and Alexey Toropchenko while also bringing back some familiar faces via free agency in Mackenzie MacEachern and Oskar Sundqvist.
He now makes the jump to Ufa, where he could line up alongside one-time teammate Nikolai Kulemin, whose last season in Toronto was 2013-14 – the same year Leivo made his NHL debut. Ufa is off to a 3-2-0 start to their season thanks to four goals and six points from San Jose Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski. They also are playing with heavy hearts this season after retiring Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rodion Amirov’s number 27 at the beginning of the season – he passed away from a brain tumor this summer at the age of 21.