Saturday, 14 June 2014

Louis Leblanc era ends in Montréal, as he's traded to Ducks for a conditional 5th-round draft pick.

Watching the playoffs lately has stung a little bit for Canadiens fans, and not only because it could/should have been the Habs who got fed to the lion-Kings.  Watching Ryan McDonagh skating all over the ice, assured and imaginative with the puck, dependable and sure-handed when fighting to retrieve it, that smarts.  Ouch.

There was also the play of towering Chris Kreider, who maybe exemplifies the archetypal forward needed in the new NHL.  Big and strong, yes, but also able to do something with the puck, he can carry it, pass it, shoot it.  And man can he skate.

Now the tenuous link Mr. Kreider has with our Canadiens is that he was drafted by the Rangers immediately after the Canadiens picked Louis Leblanc 18th overall in 2009.  In hindsight, that wasn't an inspired choice.  How good would Chris Kreider look on the Canadiens' roster now, with his size and speed?  He'd be exactly the type of player Marc Bergevin would try to build around.

But that is what it is, hindsight.  I've made the point repeatedly that at the time, both were merely eighteen years old, it was understandably hard to project how they'd develop.  Maybe the Rangers had a player on their hands, maybe they had another Hugh Jessiman.

Similarly, while the Canadiens' pick didn't exactly quicken the pulse when he was drafted, not like Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu did when their names were called, Louis was described as a very smart player, and I had hopes he could turn into a Guy Carbonneau-type, which would have been very nice.  But injuries and being bounced around in his development path from the USHL to Harvard-NCAA to the LHJMQ to the AHL to the Canadiens and back and forth may have stalled his progress.  At least, that's what we think as Habs fans.

As recently as two seasons ago, both Louis and Blake Geoffrion got off to a very promising start playing on a line together with the Bulldogs, against tough competition in the AHL as the NHL lockout forced a lot of good young players into the minors.  They were both producing and playing a leadership role on the ice, regularly described by the Bulldogs play-by-play team as the best players on the ice.  Which is really what was expected of these young 'star' players, that they'd lead the way.  But Louis wrecked his ankle ten games in, and then Blake suffered his career-ending injury.  Louis never got back on track when he returned to the ice.  I still wonder what might have been, had that early flame been allowed to grow.

And I don't want to get sidetracked, but isn't this a great illustration of how hit-and-miss prospect development is?  During the lockout, coming off a horrible 2011-12 season, as I mentally shuffled the Canadiens roster, I envisioned Blake and Louis as better off in the AHL to work on their game, but the very best available options for injury callups.  They were the guys who were knocking on the door at the forward position.  They might have been a year out, at most.  Instead, they got leap-frogged by Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and both former prospects are now flushed out of the system.

And here we are today, after the announcement that Louis Leblanc has been traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional 5th-round draft pick in 2015.  That's very meager returns, I would have kept the kid if it was up to me instead of swapping him for those magic beans.  The measly haul shows just how far the the relationship between the player and the team had run off the rails.  There had been outbursts from the Leblanc camp, a Twitter tirade from his girlfriend after he got cut from the last training camp, and unattributed comments about the humiliation he was submitted to in Hamilton, that to me sounded like they must have come from his worried mother.

And it makes me wonder why, if we traded away Louis, we didn't sign Brady Vail to an entry-level contract.  Organizationally, wouldn't the Windsor Spitfire have slotted into the role Louis was now asked to play, the defensively-oriented, responsible forward?  Did the Canadiens know Louis wouldn't be back, and still chose not to sign Mr. Vail?  If so, that's not very flattering to the latter.

So we've opened up another contract slot, and have lost even more depth at forward at the AHL level.  The cupboard is really, really bare.  The Ducks get a player who's now a project instead of a blue-chipper, and who's eligible for waivers next season.  We wish Louis well and hope he can use the change in scenery to blossom and have the NHL career he gave up a Harvard scholarship for.

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