I was sitting in the Bell Center only 14 months ago watching Louis Leblanc climb onto the stage to shake Bob Gainey's hand after being selected by the Montreal Canadiens 18th overall during the 1st round of the 2009 NHL entry draft.
The fans taking part in the event roared as if the Canadiens had just traded for rights to Vincent LeCavalier. And maybe they had, only in the form of a talented young prospect named Louis Leblanc.
Born and raised on the Island of Montreal Leblanc is the first francophone to be selected in the first round by the Canadiens since Eric Choinard was picked back in 1998.
The hype around this player is more so than the Canadiens' 1st round draft picks from recent years, many of whom have been scouted out of the US high school and college ranks.
In a way Leblanc provides the city of Montreal and the province of Quebec with a chance to re-live part of the old-time Habs, the Flying Frenchmen.
The jury is still out on Leblanc's NHL potential which ranges from the possibility of being a 1st line player to a 3rd line player. It all depends on how Leblanc develops during the next 1-2 years.
For now Leblanc will be playing with the Montreal in the QMJHL, making the Juniors a serious challenger to win the Preseidents Cup and advance to the 2011 Memorial Cup.
On the ice Leblanc gives Juniors head coach Pascal Vincent a legitimate 1st line center, something they didn't have last season. From a production standpoint Leblanc should earn anywhere from 70 to 95 points assuming he remains healthy throughout the course of the year and doesn't miss too many games in connection with the Montreal Canadiens training camp in September and the World Junior Hockey Championships in December, assuming he makes the team.
But he brings more than just point production to the table. Leblanc is recognized as a player who competes hard every shift and each and every game. He plays with heart, determination and is a leader, one that leads by example on the ice.
Off the ice Leblanc has created a stir and will continue to do so as his name is bound to help the Montreal Juniors at the box office. Being a number 1 pick of the Montreal Canadiens will help attract new fans to the Juniors. Habs fans who claim to be hockey fans will have an opportunity to prove they're both by coming to watch Louis Leblanc at the Verdun Auditorium.
So who will play on Leblanc's wings?
Captain Nicolas Chouinard seems like a nice fit to play on the right side. Not only can Chouinard score 25-35 goals (he scored 29 goals and 59 points in 66 games played last season), he would also help create room for Leblanc who is bound to be a targeted man by the opposing teams defensive players. Although his size is below average, Chouinard plays with a fearless edge and won't be afraid to drop the gloves should anyone choose to take liberties with Leblanc.
On the left wing the Montreal Canadiens' other prospect owned by the Juniors, Philippe Lefebvre, seems like a nice fit. Lefebvre played for Drummondville during each of the last three seasons and last year he scored 26 goals and 55 points in 66 games played.
Adding Lefebvre to this line would provide the Juniors with a strong 1st line and leave enough offensive depth (ie: Gouchie, Parkes) to form a strong 2nd scoring line.
Here's an update on how I see the Juniors lineup shaping up:
FORWARD & AGE (LW / C / RW):
1: Philippe Lefebvre (19) / Louis Leblanc (19) / Nicolas Choinard (20)
2: Jeremy Gouchie (20) / Louis-Marc Aubry (19) / Trevor Parkes (19)
3: Janos Hari (18) / Denis Kindl (18) / Eliezer Sherbatov (19)
4: Jr. Harris (18) / Philippe Fontaine (19) / David Rose (19)
Extras: Roux (18) / Lapostelle (19)
DEFENSEMEN & AGE (LD / RD):
1: Roussel (19) / Ouellet (17)
2: Meilleur (20) / Landry (19)
3: Narbonne (18) / Provost (18)
GOALIES & AGE:
Starter: Jean-Francois Berube (19)
Back Up: Etienne Marcoux (17)