Saturday, June 14, 2014

Louis Leblanc Autograph Card

It was bound to happen, and it did: after forcing him into as many bad decisions as they could, the Montréal Canadiens have traded their first-round pick of 2009 to the Anaheim Ducks.

Indeed, upon being drafted, Louis Leblanc was headed to Harvard for a fine education and what his hockey career needed the most: a concise schedule, and a lot of off-ice time in the gym to bulk up his 6'1'', 170-pound frame.

Instead, the Habs insisted he play his Junior hockey in the LHJMQ, where his odds of playing at the World Juniors would be greater (he had been cut from Team Canada after his first NCAA season despite having previously been its best player at the U-17 Ivan Hlkina Memorial Tournament the year before when it won gold). In that respect, it worked, because he made the 2011 silver-medal team and finished fourth in scoring (including a short-handed goal) with 7 points in 7 games, but many viewed his 58-point season (in 51 games) in the Q as disappointing for a first-rounder.

2011-12 was a better year for him, personally, as he tallied 11 goals, 11 assists and 22 points in 31 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs, leading to a call-up with the Habs for the bulk of the season, where he compiled a 5-5-10 stat sheet in 42 games, mostly in fourth-line duties.

But a new management and coaching staff was brought in for 2012-13, both at the NHL and AHL levels, and a training camp injury mixed with the lock-out gave every other prospect in the organization a better chance at impressing their bosses. Also, the Habs' brass thought he'd have a better chance of reaching the NHL on a more permanent basis - at least with their own team - if he were to become a two-way, third-line center than be used in an offensive role, so they asked Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre not to give him the best offensive minutes, leading to a bit of a clash in philosophies between the two.

Like any huge corporation, the Habs are run in an ''old school'' manner that will be very difficult to change. They want a first line that can put points up on the board, a second line that can chip in two nights out of three, a third line to counter the opposition's top line, and a fourth line made up of grinders.

In today's NHL, however, where there are very few 80-point players and where those who do reach that milestone rarely can in consecutive seasons, you're better off having a top-9 who can all play both ways for 18-20 minutes a game and all have the potential to reach 55-75 points year in and year out (and maybe 90 once or twice if the stars are aligned) - like the Boston Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Anaheim Ducks, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Not just that, Montréal's first-liners are 60-point men (granted, one's a 39-goal scorer) and the team's best center plays second-line minutes, usually paired off with third-liners - yet still outscores or equals the ''first-liner''.

And that's why a 5th-round pick for Leblanc is a nice gamble for Anaheim. He's now listed at 186 pounds, has the flair to create offense, has learned how to defend a bit better, and he'll be pissed off and focused to try to prove the Canadiens wrong, all in the shadow and under the protection and watchful eye of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, François Beauchemin and maybe even Saku Koivu.

And to put his ''disappointing'' AHL totals of the past two years in perspective, his 10 goals in 2012-13 were good for second on the team (despite missing 20 games to injury, and playing fourth-line duties upon his return); he ranked 5th in goals, 6th in points and 7th in penalty minutes in 2013-14. And he made the All-Rookie Team at nearly every level he played at.

And so, when I got this 2013-14 Team Canada insert by Upper Deck (the same as the regular #150 card but with a sticker autograph signed in blue sharpie), I was delighted:

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