Stéphane Richer is in the news again due to the increased media attention to the issue of depression among professional athletes, and the question is asked whether he was anointed as 'The Next One' by the Montreal press and fan base and whether that contributed to his bouts of depression.
When Stéphane was drafted by the Canadiens, the expectations were high but there were whispers that he was fragile. He was blessed with size, skating ability, a booming shot and a scorer’s nose. After the 1984-85 LHJMQ season there was a sense that he needed another year in juniors, that he wasn’t mature enough at least mentally, and the Chicoutimi Saguenéens traded for him during the season expecting that he’d return for the next season and fill their arena. The Canadiens brought him up though, partly to give him more structure and more of a challenge, and because it was thought that it wouldn’t be the right environment for an impressionable guy like him to be treated like a god in a small town.
I don’t think anyone really thought he was the ‘next’ one after Richard, Béliveau, Cournoyer and Lafleur, partly due to the fact that he was drafted in the second round. It was a pleasant surprise when he scored 50 goals, many thought he’d be a 30 goal guy in the NHL. After that, the pressure on him to produce was immense, and he became a butt of jokes for his awkward interviews and his mangled grammar, in English and French. The comedy troupe “Rock et Belles Oreilles” did a regular and devastating impression of him. This would have been hard for him to accept, given his emotional state. The trade to New Jersey might have been the best thing that happened to him, in hindsight.
A bonus for him at the time was that there were other young players with promising futures in the organization, guys like Petr Svoboda and Chris Chelios and Tom Kurvers, Sergio Momesso, Claude Lemieux, Brian Skrudland, Patrick Roy and Mike Lalor. There was also a lot of leadership on the team, with Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, Chris Nilan, Bobby Smith, Craig Ludwig, Mats Naslund, Chris Nilan, Rick Green, Ryan Walter. So there were expectations, but he wasn’t seen as the Savior, and wasn’t the focus of the entire fan base, like P.K. and Carey and Max are today. He was insulated partially by the strength of the team and the belief that the future was in good hands. He was a big piece of the puzzle, but only one, so that gave him a little slack.