Kent Hughes was a privileged witness at the Molson Center in June 2009 when the crowd began chanting Louis Leblanc’s name… even before Trevor Timmins took the mic.
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It would have been unthinkable for the Canadian to eschew the local hero in favor of an obscure player from a Massachusetts high school. “There would have been an uproar in Montreal if we had chosen Chris Kreider over Leblanc,” said Timmins a few years later.
Thirteen years have passed. Kreider is coming off a 52-goal season, the seventh year with more than 20 career goals. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton offered him a seven-year, $45 million contract in 2020. He also had time to screw up Carey Price’s knee.
Leblanc has been retired for seven years. He played 50 games in the NHL, scored 10 points. Montreal traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for future terms in June 2014. Had Leblanc played at least 15 games with the Ducks, the CH would have received a fifth-round pick, but he was never recalled from the minors. The Canadian therefore received nothing.
Hughes is well placed to recall what was a complex evening for the Canadian’s management. He sat next to the young man. Before Leblanc dropped him in favor of Pat Brisson a year later.
A majority of fans claimed Shane Wright for the No. 1 Thursday night. Many supporters even showed up at the Bell Center wearing the young man’s No. 51 jersey. Most specialist lists placed Wright first. One of Ontarian’s biggest threats to the throne, Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky, was even greeted with a few boos as he walked the red carpet upon his arrival at the amphitheatre.
The Canadian’s general manager must have remembered that evening in June 2009 over the past few weeks. In his first draft as GM, it took nerves of steel and a great deal of daring, in Montreal at that, to go against popular favor. Now you know what Kent Hughes is made of.
Shane Wright, an exceptional player at 15, was not only shunned by the Canadian, he was ignored by the Devils and the Coyotes before ending up in Seattle, fourth pick holders.
It took the giant Slafkovsky less than 30 minutes to seduce the audience at the Bell Center, who ended up giving him a superstar-worthy reception. He will never forget this evening.
A crucial World Cup
Juraj Slafkovsky has always been considered one of the good candidates for this vintage, but his rating has continued to rise since the Olympics, where he scored seven goals in as many games. The caliber was still weak at these games, NHL players deprived.
His nine points in eight games, which he scored at the World Cup, are more telling. His critics argue that he did not produce against Finland and Canada, but against Italy, France and Kazakhstan. And the statistics support it.
But if you watch him closely in those games against Finland and Canada, you’ll notice a 6-foot-4, 220-pound power winger who has multiplied scoring chances (five shots against Canada and four against Finland), a winger, who despite turning 18 since April, won most of the fights along the ramp, never hesitated to rush into the opponent’s net and used his very good shot well.
Slafkovsky encountered defensive pairs Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell (of the Dallas Stars) against Finland and Thomas Chabot and Zach Whitecloud against Canada.
And even if the tournament could have entered the legs of an 18-year-old boy after several hard-fought games, coach Craig Ramsay, seeing snow, did not hesitate to use him for more than 20 minutes during the last encounter, the quarter-final against Finland, the the team’s second most used player, all positions combined.
Slafkovsky has his weaknesses. He still has some work to do to understand the game when he’s not in possession of the puck. CH recruiters wanted to make sure he would be a good student. Apparently they were convinced.
His poor performance in the Liiga this winter, just 10 points from 31 games, leaves some at a loss. But he was playing for an ultra-defensive club, on a big rink, not ideal for a power forward like him, and TPS Turku management had no interest in buying time for a young foreign player, veterans and players within their organization have grown up.
We finally agreed to use him more after the Olympics and he’s scored four goals in his last ten games (just one in his first 21 regular-season games) and had seven points in 18 playoff games by the age of 17, on the fifth place of the team counters.
The Kirby Dach Bet
The New York Rangers’ first two centers last season, Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome, both fell out of favor with their bosses when Jeff Gorton, then the Blue Shirts’ general manager and the Canadians’ vice president of hockey operations, sacked their takeover carried out.
Despite his 51 points in 81 games in his fourth season in the NHL, at the age of 23 we didn’t have too much faith in Zibanejad, who was sixth overall in Ottawa 2011. After all, in July 2016 we added a second-round pick for a nearly 29-year-old center, Derick Brassard, to the Rangers’ offer. 16 points in 19 playoff games a year earlier.
A little over two years later, Strome, the Islanders’ fifth pick of 2011, was already traded from Long Island and, at the age of 24, had just finished a 34-point season in Edmonton. In exchange, Gorton offered the Oilers Ryan Spooner, who was just briefly successful.
We wish the Canadian every success with Kirby Dach as well. Zibanejad has 206 points in his last 194 games in New York, Strome has 162 in his last 200.
The Canadian is obviously taking a calculated risk with Dach. The Chicago Blackhawks wouldn’t have traded a 21-year-old offensive center in the middle of a rebuild if things had gone well.
But in the Canadian’s estimation, despite his temper and tenacity, Alexander Romanov would never become a first-line defender on a top-flight team, let alone an attacking defender. We would of course have kept him if we were able to, but we realized there was still work to be done in terms of his decision making with the puck.
There was also congestion on defense with the impending arrival of the team’s first pick of 2020, Kaiden Guhle, also robust by request and superior to Romanov in every respect, according to the team’s leadership. Not to mention Jordan Harris, a lean defender, and 6-foot-4, 220-pound giant Arber Xhekaj, 21, who made a splash in the junior ranks in the playoffs, and Jayden Struble, another burly and rough left-hander Defender.
We could therefore afford to sacrifice a young established defender in favor of a gifted 21-year-old centre, a rare commodity within the organisation. Like Slafkovsky, Dach is over 6 feet 4 inches tall. We get a better balance in attack in terms of size with Cole Caufield already in place and possibly Sean Farrell.
Dach was drafted in 2019 third overall after Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, twelve places ahead of Caufield. He’s a year younger than Romanov and even a few weeks younger than Caufield.
His pick in the top three came as a bit of a surprise, but Dach made it to the NHL at age 18. In his freshman season, he accumulated 23 points in 64 games, a similar production to Alexis Lafrenière and Jack Hughes in their freshman years.
Dach was set to be the undisputed star of Canada’s youth team at the World Cup in January 2021, having even been named captain when a wrist injury forced his retirement.
He never appears to have recovered but still amassed 10 points in 18 games when he returned to the game in March 2020.
But the young man, who turned 21 in January, like many Hawks players, had a season to forget with 26 points in 70 games last year.
Dach had 13 points in his first 29 games of 2021, playing between 18 and 23 minutes per game, but everything fell apart after that. The change of coach may not have helped.
Despite his limited offensive performance, he is a center who is already very responsible defensively, who doesn’t take shortcuts before fattening his record, who has a good skate for a player his size, a hard worker who plays very dynamically.
Kris Letang looked at Montreal
Before signing this amazing six-year contract extension (for $36 million) with the Pittsburgh Penguins given his 35 years, Kris Letang pondered the possibility of joining the Canadian.
“Not only to go home, but also because of the organization, which has a long history,” he told reporters. As a child I often went to the Bell Centre, I experienced them, these emotions. Again tonight to hear the crowd… You dream a little of it in your head. It’s a team I’ve always admired. »
Obviously the penguins had no intention of rebuilding. More in the text by Simon-Olivier Lorange.