When the Montreal Canadiens made Louis Leblanc one of the first cuts of their 2013 training camp, many fans and analysts assumed that the 2009 first round pick was in the organization’s bad books, and that his chances of having an NHL career with the Habs were dwindling fast. There were even some who were calling the 22-year-old a “first round bust.”
The team however, insisted that Leblanc was sent to Hamilton early because they had already evaluated him previously and needed a longer look at newly acquired prospects such as Christian Thomas, and that it said nothing about Leblanc’s future with the club.
However, when Leblanc’s girlfriend, Canadian tennis player Alexandra Wozniak complained publically about the move on twitter, the rumors of Leblanc being in the doghouse only ramped up. The talk of Louis Leblanc and his supposed bad attitude increased, and rumors swirled about his possible inclusion in a trade.
While the very early training cut was certainly disappointing to Leblanc, he hasn’t let it effect his game on the ice. Leblanc went to Hamilton with a new-found commitment to work hard and improve his play. In my opinion, he has done that, and has been the best, and most consistent of all Hamilton Bulldogs forwards this year. While Leblanc hasn’t gotten much of a reward for his efforts (he’s only been called up for five NHL games this year), this is more a result of the relative health the Habs have enjoyed amongst their forward group for the last month or so, than it is a comment on his play.
Leblanc has been an offensive threat for Hamilton, despite often playing on the second or third line. He has shown off a nice wrist shot, and quick release, and has used that to score a team-leading nine goals in 30 games this season. Add in nine assists and Leblanc’s 18 points equal his 2012-13 production in less than half the games played.
However it is away from the puck where Leblanc has also improved. He has shown an increased willingness to battle along the boards this year, and increased strength and success when doing so. He is doing the right things on the ice as he is finding open areas in the offensive zone to get open for a pass, as well as going to the front of the net and creating space for linemates.
To top it all off, Leblanc has become a reliable defensive forward, and in my opinion, this is where his future lies at the NHL level. Leblanc has proven that he can be matched up against the other team’s top line on a regular basis and has performed well in that role. He also has been extremely effective for Hamilton on the penalty kill. Leblanc may never be a scoring sensation in the NHL, but his current development indicates that he could become a reliable third line winger who can contribute some secondary offence to the club.
While Leblanc will never be confused for a pugilist, he has even shown a willingness to come to the defence of his teammates. In a recent game with the Toronto Marlies, Leblanc jumped in to defend Greg Pateryn and challenged Leafs prospect Tyler Biggs to a fight after Biggs ran Pateryn into the boards. While no penalties were assessed on the play, Leblanc got in a couple of shots on the much larger, and more experienced fighter in Biggs.
While no one is hoping for injuries to the current lineup, Habs fans can take comfort in knowing that Leblanc is playing well in the AHL and appears ready to fulfill a role on the big club if calling him up becomes necessary due to some injuries amongst the forwards in the second half of the season. He might be taking his time in developping, but eventually Leblanc could be worth the wait for Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin.
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @lastwordrick, @MitchRTierney, @LastWordBigMick, @crimsonskorpion, @CMS_74_, @TwoTurtleDuffs, @d_rocchi, @dasimonetta, @LWOSDanRussell, @ddmatthews, @CanuckPuckHead, @NKonarowski2, @LarryScotti, @PurpleRocktober, @jaynichols11, @meaghannn_, @LastWordOnNHL, and @darrinharmy and follow the site @lastwordonsport and like our Facebook Page.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.
Main Photo Credit: http://thereuschblog.com, CC