Devils at the 2009 NHL Draft: A Louis Leblanc Overview

I conclude the series of overviews of various players that the Devils could select at 23rd overall.   I'm focusing this last one on Louis Leblanc because A) he was suggested earlier and B) if the Devils are looking to trade up at all, this is the guy I would like to see them target.

Before continuing, I would like to point you to this comprehensive list of draft profiles compiled by the Western College Hockey Blog.   All SBN profiles are linked there and I highly, highly recommend checking out the ones about other potential Devils picks at 23rd overall: Jacob Josefson, Drew Shore, Nick Leddy, and Peter Holland. That all said, let's go back to Leblanc, who had this blurb written about him by The Jersey Devil:

Another two-way center, Leblanc has what most teams want in a young forward; the ability to put up a lot of points without lacking ability on the defensive side of the puck. In his first year in the USHL, Leblanc went about a point a game in a league where most players simply don’t do that, and was named the USHL rookie of the year. This combination of skills makes him a worthwhile pick on draft day.

Very well, here's his vitals and his stats from his last season:

Louis Leblanc - Center - 6'0" - 178 lbs. - Hometown: Kirkland, Quebec, Canada
2008-09 Team:  Omaha Lancers  60 GP - 28 G - 31 A - 59 PTS - 78 PIM (source)

Leblanc definitely put up big numbers for Omaha, earned the league's Rookie of the Year award, and he's already committed to college for next season.  Not just any college, but Harvard University.   Leblanc had this to say regarding his choice in this John McGourty article at NHL.com:

"Ted Donato was a factor, for sure," Leblanc said. "My decision was always to go to college and to pick the best college where I could get the best education. Ted Donato played 13 years in the NHL and I thought he could bring me to the next level."

If you're looking for education, Harvard certainly isn't a bad choice!   I guess it's fair to assume he's got some smarts to go with that skill.  Let's see what others have to say about young, potentially scholarly, and soon-to-be-mocking-Yale center.

 

First, Hockey's Future doesn't seem to have a feature article on him, but they do have a profile for him with a talent analysis. Here's what the HF Staff had to say:

A talented two-way forward with good speed, he can go end to end and is a game-breaker at the USHL level. Welcomes physical play and isn’t afraid to go into the rough ends of the ice to produce. Does a good job in the corners and in tight around the net. A very good set of hands, can protect the puck well and create space. Needs to learn to be more north and south. Questions have been raised about his overall work ethic and commitment.

Questions about work ethic and commitment, eh?  I'm not so certain on his work ethic being a question if only because, as mentioned earlier, Leblanc did have a nearly point per game season in the USHL.  He finished 10th in the league in scoring, unless Leblanc is that skilled, I'm questioning whether work ethic could really be an issue given that result.

Since I already brought up the NHL.com article, let's go back to it for a minute as it provides a sound refutation of these questions. The headline for McGourty's article is: "Leblanc hailed for work ethic and skills."  The article isn't just a good summary of who Leblanc is, but it provides very telling quotes from his coach, Bliss Littler, and from former NHL player Craig Ludwig, who has seen Leblanc play as a result of following his son, C.J., in the USHL.

"It's flat-out amazing how hard he works, and I've never seen, in 20 years of coaching, his level of competitiveness," [Bliss] Littler said. "He competes harder than other players. He's got a lot of 'want' in him. If the puck is there, he's on it."

"Louis is a hard-nosed kid who gets his goals from near the goal, not the perimeter," [Craig] Ludwig said. "It's refreshing to see a player with that skill set who understands what he needs to do to be successful. He is a combination of skill and blue-collar work ethic. It's great to have skill, but if the hard work doesn't come first, it means nothing. The determination is there with Leblanc."

My point isn't to blow up HF's spot, but rather to point out that not everyone is questioning his work ethic.  If anything, some praise it and highlight it as an asset.  Speaking of assets, here's this quote from Central Scouting's Jack Barzee:

NHL Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee

"The most impressive things about Louis Leblanc are his hands and his evasiveness with the puck; that separates him from other players on the ice right away. He needs to fill out a little bit yet, but he has the frame to be a big center. The other part of LeBlanc’s game that I noticed was his vision; his ability to see and dissect a play and to make the right play. He’s also very competitive and he gets involved in the play."

Now so far, HF's knock on commitment aside, these are all very positive traits.  Good vision, good hands, a very competitive attitude on the ice, and he's not only able to score, but able to take the pain when necessary.  Granted, at 6'0", 178 lbs., Leblanc will almost have to get bigger to be able to do that at the next level.  But I'm confident he'll be working on that at Harvard.

As far as points of comparison are concerned, J Alexander & Brent Gregory at Heated Skates compares him to Patrick Marleau, a very talented center in his own right.  Alexander even had this additional point about Leblanc's game:

Louis Leblanc was considered a top 10 prospect going into  the season. With his style of play and being from Quebec, I think it will be hard for the Canadiens to pass up on Leblanc at #18.

Speaking of Canadiens, Robert at Habs Eyes on the Prize has a good profile on Leblanc.  Needless to say, I don't think Robert would mind if he ends up in the Blue, Blanc, et Rouge.  In fact, it's not only Alexander who's referencing Montreal along with Leblanc.  In this report at USA Today by Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief after the World U-18s, he states that Leblanc is "rising" with this blurb.

Louis Leblanc— His firewagon brand of hockey reminds us of the great old Habs teams. Plays with speed, fire, passion, and elan. Plus he's got a world of skill and a nice physical edginess.

Speaking of the Red Line Report, the Chicago Blackhawks' official website actually has a profile with a big Red Line Report, uh, report on Leblanc:

Plays with a fiery edge to his game, with his emotions just barely under control enough to be a major pain in the ass to his opponents, while not undermining his team's discipline. Not only does he play a high-speed, up-tempo game, he also comes back deep to help out in his own end and gets highly involved in the physical altercations. Passionate and has a world of skill. Great first step burst and is up to full speed in a single stride. Extra separation gear and ability to handle the puck and make all the right moves at top end speed forces defenders to back off the blue line. Has outstanding puck skills and playmaking ability. Rips a fine assortment of shots with accuracy and will fire from any angle. Lack physical strength now, but still plays with a phsyical edginess and has the frame to add 15 pounds of muscle. Big upside with lots of ways to impact a game positively.

Alright, this is excellent stuff right here.  Not just because I'm getting excited about what has been written about his offensive talents so far, but because we finally have a point of criticism!  In reviewing some of these blurbs so far for this overview, it wasn't until this point where I felt "Wow, Leblanc is so well praised, why isn't he a top 10 guy? Is there anything wrong with him?"  Well, here's one: Leblanc needs to get stronger.  Again, I'm not concerned about that.  I figured that out the minute I saw he was 178 lbs.   I'm not even concerned that he is going to the ECAC and play for Harvard; he'll get coached by a NHL veteran who can help him prepare for that level of hockey. Here's something does make me raise an eyebrow:

As stated in his NHL.com profile, Leblanc represented Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2008, put in 3 goals, got 2 assists, and helped Canada win Gold there.   OK, now let me tell you about his World U-18 performance.

Oh, wait, I can't.  He wasn't on the team.  And I'm absolutely baffled by this.  The guy puts up a point per game in the USHL and he's not selected for the World U-18 tournament for Canada?  You'd think someone so skilled yet physical and someone so competitive would be ideal for such a tourney. There has to be a proper reason for this.  It can't be age, there are multiple 1991 birthdates after Leblanc's (January 26) on this roster.   Was he busy with Omaha in the USHL?   Was he just not considered by Team Canada (and if that's the case, why)?  If anyone knows, please tell me, I'm really interested in knowing why he wasn't there.

The only other knock I can see on Leblanc is that he didn't do quite so well at the NHL Combine.  Gare Joyce had an article on the combine and specifically named him as someone who didn't do so well at the VO-2 intake test:

What's under the hood ... Teams are always looking for prospects with good motors. There's no telling who will churn but at least you get an idea who might with the VO 2-intake, peak heart-rate and recovery, and Wingate tests. Worth noting: 1. Kingston's towering defenceman Taylor Doherty posted better numbers than Hedman; Doherty also posted some huge leg power numbers. 2. Very mediocre readings from forward Louis Leblanc, the kid who eschewed the Quebec league this season to play with Omaha in the USHL and commit to Harvard for the fall; 3. The best VO 2 max numbers were posted by Lethbridge's Carter Ashton, the only prospect to last the 17-minute duration.

Generally, that test at the combine is looked at for stamina. Granted, if Leblanc needs to get stronger anyway, then he can certainly work on that as well.  However, I can also see how it would cause his stock to drop a bit. Especially in conjunction with Christopher Ralph's assessment (who also compares him to Patrick Marleau), which includes another quote about how Leblanc wasn't great at the physical aspects of the combine.

As mentioned earlier, he was supposed to be a top 10 guy, but given that this draft is deep with talent, then these otherwise potentially meaningless issues - not being strong, not so great at the combine, not at the U-18s - can force a guy to fall from that to the late-10s or the early-20s if other prospects have stepped up in that regard.   Therefore, mock drafts are all over the place with Leblanc and many others. That's at least how I see it.  I think Leblanc would be a fantastic pick and I honestly would be amazed if he was available at 23rd overall.  If he is available, then I would hope the Devils make the move to take him.   And if the Devils want to move up a couple of spots, I would want to see it happen for Leblanc or someone of his level.

It's time to have your say.  Do you think Leblanc will truly slip down to #23 or will he be selected in the middle of the first round?  Have you seen Leblanc and believe the praise, or reject the hype?  Should the Devils even consider trading up in this draft given that they may be able to get a solid talent at 23rd overall?  And if so, should it be for Leblanc or someone else?   Leave your comments about Leblanc and these questions below.

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