Leeds Chiefs see Lewis Baldwin as key to their NIHL National progression
LEWIS BALDWIN was one of the first names on Sam Zajac’s retained list for Leeds Chiefs when he started sketching out a roster for the 2020-21 NIHL National season.
That should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the West Yorkshire club throughout their inaugural season, with Baldwin’s performances and development one of the highlights of a tough campaign.
The 21-year-old defenceman finished the season as the Chiefs’ second-highest points scorer - posting 13 goals and 21 assists in 43 games - but it wasn’t just his offensive upside that impressed Zajac.
The Chiefs’ player-coach was particularly impressed with how Baldwin adapted to having extra responsibilities handed to him from an early stage in the season, something which, given his age, probably wasn’t originally anticipated by either player or coach.
Like new team-mate Kieran Brown who was announced last week by the Chiefs, Baldwin is a product of the Bradford Bulldogs junior system.
His close ties to the area meant that once it became clear Leeds was to finally get its first-ever ice hockey team, he was keen to be among those around from the very start of the franchise last summer.
And he is certainly in no rush to leave - something which made talks between him and Zajac over staying for a second season a simple process.
“Lewis is a player with a lot of upside and we’re delighted to have him back,” said Zajac.
“He was one of the first names down on my list for bringing back next season. We spoke just after the turn of the year and we had a deal done just before the season was cut short, so we’ve had this one wrapped up for a while.
“Lewis took some really big steps with us last season. The potential has always been there and he has always had that bit of offensive spark - something that not too many British D-men have.
“So that was one area of his game I was really looking forward to having on board and, as everyone knows, he was really productive for us in that respect.
“But, just as importantly, the defensive side of his game came on leaps and bounds as the season went along, too.
“Given some of the injuries we had back there, he probably played more minutes than he first thought he would do with us. It forced him to be more exposed but he grabbed his chance with both hands.”
Another reason Zajac was keen to get Billingham-born Baldwin back on board - for whenever the 2020-21 campaign does get under way - was his ability to lead by example.
The Chiefs will have a younger roster next season and Baldwin’s experience on the back-end during a testing campaign should prove invaluable.
“He’s a good personality to have in the room and he keeps the room light, he’s a bit of a joker which is something you always like to have around,” added Zajac.
“But he’s also well-respected by his peers and that leadership side of his game is one angle we’re going to look to develop next season.
“He has the potential to be a true leader on the ice. He’s a vocal kid and he’s always willing to speak up which is a good thing to have in the locker room.
“His play speaks for itself because he leaves it all out there and always puts his body on the line. When it gets down to a one-goal game or you find yourself going into overtime, he’s exactly one of the guys you first look to on the bench to put out there.”
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Thank you, Laura Collins