Rabid Habs

Louis Leblanc: From Hero to Zero

Former Habs Louis LeBlanc

It was the 2009 NHL Entry draft, thousands of fans were gathered at the Bell Centre to see who their beloved Habs would choose with their first round pick. Prior to the draft, many members of the media had local kid, Louis Leblanc, pegged around where Montreal was expected to pick. When it came time for Montreal to make their selection at the 18th spot, the place erupted with chants. “LOUIS! LOUIS! LOUIS!’’ The crowd expected nothing less from the management but to pick the Pointe-Claire native. Right at that moment, a star was born; at least that’s what fans thought. That readers, has remained the highlight of Louis Leblanc’s career!

The Louis Leblanc era officially came to an end today when Marc Bergevin, following the Kings hoisting the Cup last night, traded the 2009 draftee to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2015 conditional 5th round pick (the condition is based on Leblanc playing 15 games with the Ducks next season). Some fans may argue, thanks to hindsight, that the only reason that Leblanc was selected by the Canadiens was to please the fans after the disappointing season they just had, but that my friend is bologna.

First of all, the majority of scouts had him before Montreal’s pick. Bob McKenzie had him at 17th, ISS at 17th, Red Line Report had him at 10th and McKeen’s hockey had him at 12th. This shows that Montreal picked him on his merits and not because of the language he speaks or where the draft was held. Second of all, RDS, in anticlimactic fashion, spoiled the pick by showing the message that Trevor Timmins was about to read on the podium. Since we’re Habs fans and we’re obsessed with everything Canadiens related, some people were able to find out the scout’s list. He had Leblanc at #9 (as for those who care here’s the rest of the list: HFBoards). Finally, Trevor Timmins shared in the post-draft interview that that he tried persuading GM at the time, Bob Gainey, to move up to #14 (Florida’s pick) in order to get Leblanc.

At the time, he was expected to be a sure fire bottom 6 player in the NHL with the possibility of being a top 6 forward. Habs fans were salivating when TSN used Mike Richards as Leblanc’s NHL comparison in terms of style (Note: I guess he’s pretty close to the 2014 version of Richards nowadays…). Here’s what McKeen’s had to say about him in their report: ‘’a hunched-over skater that packs a powerful stride, rapid acceleration, and a high running motor…will pay the price to score by jamming the net and he can finish with a hard shot .. Leblanc already plays a man’s game and is only going to get stronger…he packs a mean streak and is ultra-competitive, as he loves to run through and over opponents.’’ Does that sound like the Louis Leblanc we saw in Hamilton and Montreal? No.

So what did go wrong in the 23 year old’s development? Many factors can be attributed to his poor progress as a prospect. His skating was never strength of his and he never really worked on it. His bread and butter has always been his hockey sense and his board play. For the latter to become an effective part of his game at the NHL level, he DEFINITELY had to get stronger. His profile on the AHL website says that he weighs 190 lbs, but based on a picture taken this season (courtesy: 25stanley.com), he had to be soaking wet when they weighted him. He looks a lot smaller than Martin St-Pierre (188 lbs) and Christian Thomas (176 lbs). Gaining lower body strength would help adding explosiveness to his skating and adding muscle on his upper body would benefit his board play and his shot. Although to be fair, he did have to get surgery done to his shoulder the season before turning pro which prevented him from bulking up during the summer (the recovery period was 4 to 6 months).

Another facet that Leblanc was often criticized for was his decision to go to Harvard in his first year following his selection. Coming from a family that puts a lot of emphasis on education, Leblanc felt like it was the smartest decision to snub the QMJHL and play in the Ivy League for Harvard, that way if hockey didn’t work out, he could always finish his degree later on. A lot of people felt it was selfish for him to do that since Harvard is a lot more known for the brilliant minds they produce than NHLers (Dominic & Steve Moore, Craig Adams, Ted Donato and Alex Killorn)…That year he had 23 pts in 31 GP and led the team in scoring. The following season, he left Harvard to join the Montreal Juniors where he had over a PPG which earned him a spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors (he recorded 7 pts in 7 GP). Things looked promising for the young forward and looked to be on the right track to have a successful NHL career. He signed his first professional contract and started the year in Hamilton where he was having a lot of success (22 pts in 31 GP). Which was the total opposite of the Canadiens that year who went on to finish 27th in the league.

That season, Leblanc seemed like one of the few bright spots on the team by showing that he had the potential to be a pretty good NHL player for the Tricolore and BANG he hit a wall. All the progress he had done since being drafted completely vanished; he no longer seemed like a player who had the qualities to become an NHLer. The lockout happened and he was forced to play in the AHL with the Bulldogs. It all began when Leblanc suffered an ankle injury at the start of the season, an injury that bothered him for the rest of the year. He had huge setback in terms of production. He had 18 pts in 62 GP, which was less than what he had in his rookie season in twice the games…He said in an interview that it was time to hit reset and forget about the disastrous year he just had. He showed up at camp with fire that we hadn’t seen from him and looked to be on a mission. He was getting himself involved physically and created chances every time he was on the ice. There was a lot of controversy when it was announced that he was one of the first cuts. Many people (including his girlfriend) screamed bloody murder and I was one of them. I thought he had a solid camp and deserved a longer look from the management but it seemed that Bergevin had made up his mind on Leblanc. He had another season in Hamilton filled with ups and downs and was very streaky when it came to scoring. He didn’t look out of place in the games he played with the Canadiens but he didn’t do enough to make a case for himself. All that coincides with the hiring of Sylvain Lefebvre, but that’s a story for another day.

Leblanc was a victim of being a draft pick from another regime and being surpassed by other players in the depth chart (Bournival, Andrighetto, Gallagher). It was only a question of time before he was no longer part of this organization (I previously mentioned in my Pacioretty article that Ron Fournier said that Leblanc was done with the Habs). Leblanc will have to go through waivers next year and with the abundance of bottom 6 players in Montreal (Ryan White, Dale Weise, Brandon Prust, Travis Moen and Michael Bournival) we would have likely lost him for nothing via waivers. Maybe Louis can follow the same path of another Habs first round disappointment (Kyle Chipchura) and find himself a niche in the NHL. I’m not a fan of the condition since I doubt that Leblanc beats out players for a spot at Training Camp but stranger things have happened… By the way, what’s up with Anaheim picking up Montreal’s disappointments (Chipchura, Maxwell, Lapierre and now Leblanc)?

With this move, it opens up a contract spot for Bergevin and gives him the possibility of adding a pick for next year’s draft (could be used in a trade or let Timmins work his magic: Hudon, Dietz, Gallagher, Grabovski and Dumont were all 5th round picks). In retrospect, the 2009 draft was a bad draft for not only the Canadiens (Mac Bennett remains our only hope) but for many teams…Beside Kreider, there are not many players who were selected in the first round that are marginally better than Leblanc. John Moore would have been nice but we had a lot of defensemen in our organization. The 2009 draft was the last chapter of a disastrous year for Montreal and let’s hope we never have to talk about that catastrophe ever again.

Good luck Louis, it’s a shame things didn’t work out the way fans imagined in Montreal…

 

Stay tuned in the upcoming days, I’ve been putting a lot of work on an article where I will talk about Trevor Timmins’ work with the Canadiens!