Jesse Lees splits his time between defence and forward for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.

Rockets’ Lees is Mr. Versatility

Jesse Lees adapts to roles as defenseman or forward for WHL team

In Jesse Lees’ world, arriving at the rink each day comes with a certain degree of unpredictability.

But whatever role he is asked to take on the with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets—defense or forward—the Calgary native is more than happy to accommodate.

“It can be tough switching back and forth, but I think it’s good to have that challenge and be able to see both sides of the game,” said Lees, who has 16 points in 21 games this season. “I think it makes me a better player overall and if it helps the team, then I’m happy do whatever the coaches ask.”

Even before his junior career began, Lees displayed his adaptive nature on the ice, moving from defense to forward while playing with Alberta at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax. Now in his fourth season in the WHL, Lees has earned a reputation as one of the league’s most versatile players.

In an injury-plagued 2013-14 season, the 5-foot-11, 182 pounder played mostly on the defense during the regular campaign, then shifted to the front line for the playoffs.

This season, Lees estimates he has probably spent about 70 per cent of his time playing  forward.

Depending on what the Rockets’ needs are on a particular night, head coach Dan Lambert said Lees offers the club some nice options.

“He’s like swing guy for us, sometimes he’s even played both positions in the same game, and that’s not easy,” Lambert said of Lees, who scored twice in a 5-3 victory over Victoria Wednesday. “Defense is one position where we have depth, and we have some young guys who need time to develop back there…those nights, Jesse can play forward. When we have injuries on the back end or players away, then we don’t need to hesitate to move him back to defense.

“He’s accepted the role,” added Lambert, “and has done a great job.”

Asked which position he prefers, Lees didn’t choose one over the other but rather said each has its appeal.

“I like getting in on the forecheck and creating offence,” said Lees. “I also take pride in my D-zone play, so both are fun to play. I enjoy both and will do whatever benefits the team.”

As for mentally shifting back and forth between the positions on a given night, Lees has settled into a reasonably effective routine.

“We have focal points we go over before each game and I have those for both positions,” said Lees. “So I just review those, talk about it with the coaches and get ready the best way I can.”

Lees and the Rockets are home this weekend for a doubleheader against the Portland Winterhawks, Friday and Saturday nights at Prospera Place.

Hall of Fame ceremony…

Prior to Friday’s game vs Portland, the 2004 Memorial Cup champion Rockets team will be honoured for their induction into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.

Ex-Rockets Kelly Guard, Simon Ferguson and Chris Ray, will be on hand for the ceremony. The 2004 Kelowna team will be officially inducted during a gala on Thursday morning.