Montreal Canadiens' 2009 Draft Pick of Louis Leblanc Revisited: Lessons Learned?
A few weeks ago on morning sports talk radio, the hosts were preparing for the 2010 NHL amateur draft by offering their own thoughts on the Taylor (Hall) or Tyler (Seguin) choice.
But discussion quickly moved to a fond look back at the recent draft in Montreal.
"Lou-eee, Lou-eee, Lou-eee" they chanted as they did their best to re-create the atmosphere in the Bell Centre only one year ago.
There's no question that Louis Leblanc was a popular choice by the Canadiens when they selected him with the 18th pick overall in the 2009 draft. I recall Habs fans around me jumping to their feet when Leblanc's name was called, and the arena delivered a thunderous standing ovation and several choruses of "O-le, O-le."
The Canadiens marketing department must have been thrilled. The hockey department? Well, that's more unclear.
The Team 990 guys finished their Leblanc tribute with round of self-congratulatory high-fives as if they had a role in selecting him. The media (and fans) helping Canadiens management to decide their draft pick?
Perhaps it's not so far-fetched.
A few minutes later, the radio hosts moved to the unrelated (in their minds) topic of the Habs needing to pursue a big center in free agency or via trade. They bemoaned the fact that this was a perennial conversation and a gaping hole on the Habs' roster.
For me, the contradiction of the two discussions screamed through the radio speakers. Apparently not for the boys who had failed to connect the dots.
Let's help them.
Most hockey experts agree that size is best added through the draft. So, why would the Canadiens add another smallish center in 2009 when they had other options?
President Pierre Boivin provided a clue when he said that the Canadiens' mission was to ensure that members of the home province were represented at every level of the organization. Selecting a potential Francophone hero on the stage of the Bell Centre with a new local owner waiting in the wings was a seductive script that Boivin couldn't resist.
You may recall that All Habs advocated Chris Kreider as the Habs' pick in 2009 . Kreider is a big-bodied offensive forward with explosive speed and a big shot. One pick after Leblanc was taken by the Canadiens, the New York Rangers gladly scooped up Kreider.
Understandably chanting "Chris, Chris, Chris" doesn't have the same cache on morning radio in Montreal. Choosing a player born in Boxford, Massachusetts, and bypassing one from Kirkland would have sent Boivin (and possibly the new owners) into a snit fit.
But what about from a hockey perspective?
For now, Leblanc continues to shun the QMHJL and will continue his hockey career in the ECAC. For a guy who prioritizes education first and hockey second, Harvard is the place to be.
But is Leblanc's hockey development being best advanced by playing 30 games a year? Wouldn't the competitive level of the Q be a a better place for a player who has been criticized for shying away from physical contact ?
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see a head-to-head matchup of the two players at the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships in Saskatoon. While Kreider was dominant for the gold-medal winning Americans with six goals, Leblanc failed to make the Team Canada roster.
A recent issue of The Hockey News listed the top 50 NHL prospects. Leblanc was ranked No. 41, bested by fellow Canadiens' prospects Danny Kristo at No. 35 and P.K. Subban at No. 17 overall. Incidentally, the newly acquired Lars Eller (via the Jaroslav Halak trade) came in just behind Leblanc at No. 46.
Where was Kreider in THN's rankings? He was well ahead of Leblanc at No. 22. So how many years will it be until the Habs can acquire the Eric Staal-like player through free agency?
Listen, these are two young players, and there's a lot of hockey to be played. Who knows what will happen? Will Leblanc turn into the Canadiens' superstar he had already been tagged to be? Will Kreider be the more impactful NHL player?
But one thing is clear.
No matter how Leblanc progresses, he is not going to fill the role of the big center that so many people say is missing from the Canadiens organization.
I have to say that I'm getting weary of the discussion regarding the Canadiens' lack of size. Many of the people who are moaning about it now are the same ones who would have been trashing Kreider's selection.
Time will tell, but how long until my favorite morning radio guys are coveting Kreider, Carter Ashton and Peter Holland as the big, strong forwards that got away from the Canadiens in the 2009 draft?
And if things don't go as expected, we can thank the Canadiens' brass for that momentary bit of excitement when the Ivy League economics major was selected.
When the Canadiens make their first selection at the 2010 NHL draft, it is unlikely that they will be choosing a power forward with the same potential impact as those who were available to them the year before.
But in Los Angeles, unshackled from their own desire to make a splash with the next home-town superstar, let's hope that the Habs make a hockey decision.
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