It was the World Junior tournament that made me think of Louis Leblanc following yesterday’s 6-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. A year ago Leblanc was the sole representative for the Canadiens organization on Team Canada. He acquitted himself nicely. He scored 7 points in 7 games and while he had to settle for Silver in Canada’s defeat by Russia, he cemented his name among the very best juniors in the game.
With the start of another World Junior tournament it is worth noting how far Leblanc (20) has come is such a short time.
Last season Leblanc put up 58 points in 51 games with the Junior Canadiens. While his junior stats don’t exactly stack up to say Brendan Gallagher (who has 46 points in 28 games with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL), Leblanc has emerged as a defensively responsible winger with the offensive tools to be an above average scorer.
Leblanc’s AHL career started with a stutter as he missed a month of action due to a summer shoulder surgery. In 14 games with the Bulldogs, Leblanc emerged as the team’s most reliable offensive weapon scoring 10 points before being called up to Montreal due to injuries among Montreal’s forwards.
In his short time in Montreal he has played less than 10 minutes per game on average. Still, in limited ice-time Leblanc has managed to score 5 points in 13 games played. Given that most of his limited action has come on the fourth line, with long periods of inaction between shifts, most should be thrilled with this level of production. His 5 points in 13 games is better than Scott Gomez’ 4 in 13. Certainly anyone who watched the Canadiens victory over the Senators last evening saw a young man that didn’t look at all out of place on a line with David Desharnais and Michael Cammalleri.
While 13 games is a very small sample size, I decided to look at some of the advanced metrics available to see how Leblanc has fared in his time on the ice – and the numbers are fantastic.
Again, I feel it critical to re-iterate that the only players who play less on average than Leblanc in a 60 minute game are Andreas Enqvist, Petteri Nokelainen, Michael Blunden Aaron Palushaj and Mathieu Darche. Leblanc is sixth on the team in even-strength goals per 60 minutes. He is also second on the team to only Max Pacioretty in even-strength points per 60 minutes of ice time.
The signs are encouraging for this forward who has yet to hit the 15 game-mark of his NHL career. The question becomes – when injured players such as Gionta, Gomez and White return – what becomes of Leblanc?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Leblanc’s play in the limited time that we’ve seen him on an offensive line. His creativity, speed,. vision, and offensive intuition make him a great compliment to our scoring lines. Although I believe he will be sent back to Hamilton upon the return of Brian Gionta, I am very hopefull that Leblanc will be given a shot to make the Canadiens in training camp next fall.
His emergence when coupled with Lars Eller’s potential could mean that Pierre Gauthier has the latitude to deal one of his more expensive forwards away at some point before next season to open up a spot for the young forward to start the season.