'Whatever You Need, Coach.' Tre Leclaire Now a Defensive Presence for San Diego

PHOTO BY DERRICK TUSKAN / SEALS


Patrick Merrill remembers the conversation well. That’s not surprising, considering the short length of the chat.

The San Diego Seals head coach and general manager approached Tre Leclaire, the team’s fourth overall selection in the 2020 National Lacrosse League Draft, and proposed a change. Despite strong early production out the front door from Leclaire, including a five-point performance in his second NLL game and at least two points in every game since, Merrill asked if he’d be willing to move to a role in transition and with the defense.

It made sense given the team’s makeup. The Seals had a loaded offensive unit, especially following the trade deadline addition of Brett Hickey, but no one would blame Leclaire for pushing back. He was an impressive offensive prospect coming out of junior, topping out at 94 points in 20 games while playing with the Delta Islanders.

Instead, Leclaire was ready to do what was best for the team.

“He wasn’t necessarily expecting the conversation, but he was enthusiastic about it,” Merrill said. “He was very open to it. It wasn’t a very long conversation. It was like, ‘No worries, whatever you need, Coach.’”

So that week, Leclaire logged on for both the offensive and defensive meetings, and soon after, he was leaping out the back door for the team’s game against Toronto on April 2.

“I had to learn pretty quickly,” Leclaire said. “But our coaching staff on both ends of the floor made it a really easy transition, and obviously our players on the back end were helping me out too with defensive sets and how to play certain guys, what to look for when looking up the floor.”

Leclaire still finished fourth among rookies in assists and fifth in points during the regular season, but his midseason adjustment helped him also rank third among rookie forwards and transition players in loose balls. Entering the second game of San Diego’s West Final with Colorado this weekend, a game the team must win to stay alive, he tops all rookies in postseason loose balls while also accumulating a pair of goals and assists.

“I think he’s one of the more underrated players in the league,” Merrill said. “I think he’s going to continue to show that and prove that over the course of the playoffs.”

The position change did not come out of nowhere, though discussions about a potential future for Leclaire as a transition player largely stayed between the coaching and front office brass in the early stages of the season. The British Columbia native and former Ohio State Buckeye was having success as an offensive player in his rookie season, and the team didn’t want to give him more information than he could process early on.

“We knew when we drafted him, our scouting team and even just through the interview process, talking to his college coaches, his junior coaches, that he was a weapon,” Merrill said. “He’s just athletically special. So coming in, we drafted him to be an offensive player, but we also knew that he had more tools than that.”







Merrill was also cognizant that transition was a weakness for the Seals in the shortened 2020 season. After seeing Leclaire show off some of those defensive skills as a forechecking forward, and the trade that added Hickey to a right side that also included Wes Berg and Jeremy Noble, April seemed like the right time for Merrill to start tinkering.

“It was not just to transition up the floor,” Merrill said. “It was also to give us an option to press teams if we needed to or take away reverse transition as well. And then, honestly, with our D-coach Billy Greer, Tre picks up things, picked up the D a lot quickly than we thought he would quite frankly.”

Despite possessing the traits, Leclaire had little experience out the back door. That has never been his primary position, with his time on defense limited to a couple outings at the Jr. A level. He had to adjust his mindset to think like a defenseman. Having moved out to San Diego helped in that regard, giving him the opportunity to watch film midweek with his roommate, defender Eli Gobrecht.

In time, things started to click. And the Seals, now two wins away from their first NLL Cup appearance, reaped the benefits.

“It’s been great so far,” Leclaire said. “I think it’s helped with our transition and just helping us push the ball up the floor and getting it to our offense.”

Leclaire snagged eight loose balls and caused two turnovers in that transition debut against the Rock. He had at least five loose balls in five of San Diego’s final six games to close out the regular season.

There have been no complaints, even if this isn’t exactly how Leclaire envisioned his rookie campaign would go.

“With just how talented our team is and the trust I have in my teammates and that coaching staff, I know they’re going to put me in the best position,” Leclaire said. “Whatever the team needs, I’ll do. That’s kind of been my mindset, just filling roles.”

“That just speaks to Tre’s character,” Merrill said. “He’s a whatever-it-takes type teammate. He’s a confident guy, but he’s also a very humble guy. He honestly doesn’t have an ego. For someone to be successful in a role like that, they’ve got to be engaged, they’ve got to buy in and they’ve got to be open to it.”

With added comfort on defense comes added flexibility for Merrill and his staff. One quarter Leclaire might play out the back door, the next, on offense. And he’s scoring in multiple scenarios, whether that be off the faceoff, on the power play, shorthanded or in a 5-on-5 set.

Merrill believes that’s the way the NLL is moving, with players modeling themselves after highly successful do-it-all talents like Zach Currier, Challen Rogers, Kiel Matisz and Bryan Cole.

“I think he’s going to be in that class of player,” Merrill said.

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