It appears Montreal native Louis Leblanc will have his first tour of duty with the big club extended. On Sunday, the team announced the return of forward Aaron Palushaj to Hamilton, opening the door for Leblanc to make his first NHL appearance on home ice this Tuesday when the Canadiens play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Leblanc, who was penciled in to play the majority of the season with Hamilton, was impressive in his NHL debut, earning high praise from head coach Jacques Martin. The speedy winger had just under eight minutes of ice time in his NHL debut versus Anaheim on Wednesday, but saw that total jump to more than fifteen minutes the following night in San Jose.
After the game, Martin cited Leblanc’s work ethic and defensive awareness as key strengths to the youngster’s game.
In addition to recording his first career point on the road trip, an assist on Andrei Kostityn’s game winner versus the Sharks (see video below), Leblanc also made his presence known in the form of several timely hits and even a few blocked shots.
As his comfort level grew, Leblanc settled nicely into the speed and tempo of the NHL game as he skated on a line with Kostitsyn and Lars Eller.
Initially called in to help fill the void left by Max Pacioretty’s three game suspension, Leblanc showed both the speed and presence of mind to earn himself an extended audition, despite Pacioretty being scheduled return to the line-up on Tuesday.
Struggling to find their offensive spark this season, the Habs are hoping Leblanc’s energy and tenacity can provide some jump to a third line that has been streaky at best.
While Palushaj is certainly the player with the higher floor, having spent the past three seasons playing professionally, the Canadiens are hoping it’s Leblanc’s ceiling that proves to be worth the gamble.
As long as he continues to grow and mature within the system, Leblanc should be rewarded with every opportunity to play at the highest level.
However, it is important to remember that any team in this situation also runs the risk of bringing the player along too soon.
Even if the player appears to be ready (as Leblanc does), it doesn’t do anyone any good if the team is not in a position to provide the player with an appropriate opportunity.
With Pacioretty out of the line-up, Coach Martin had the freedom to reward Leblanc’s solid play with plenty of ice-time. But with Patches’ return on Tuesday, quality minutes may be more difficult to come by this week, as the team settles in for a two game home stand.
It is important to remember that in order to develop a top-six forward, you must be able to provide him with top-six minutes. It does a player of Leblanc’s calibre no good to dress for the big club and play four and a half minutes per night.
When watching Leblanc’s development, fans would be wise to keep the big picture in mind. What is best for the team tonight is not always best for the team in the long run. (*cough-Bruce-Boudreau-benches-Ovechkin-wins-game-loses-job-cough*)
So while it’s great to see Louis making his home debut, Habs fans should also understand that Leblanc will likely end up back in Hamilton at some point this season… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As long as he is riding the wave and making an impact, Leblanc will get plenty of chances to keep his momentum going. But if he and Palushaj happen to swap places again sometime soon, remember:
It’s not because Palushaj is necessarily better for Montreal, but rather that Hamilton is better for Leblanc.