Omaha Lancers center Louis Leblanc, who was No. 13 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft, probably should have been among the top five players selected in the 2007 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, but instead was taken No. 18 by the Val d'Or Foreurs.
They shouldn't have wasted the pick. Leblanc has a wealth of quality characteristics, one of them being his honesty in telling QMJHL teams he wanted to go to college in the U.S. According to an earlier interview, Leblanc said Val d'Or falsely believed a rumor that another QMJHL team was going to draft him and he'd play there.
Instead, Leblanc had an excellent season with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League and will attend Harvard University in the fall. He expects to get a degree and he's looking forward to playing for fifth-year coach Ted Donato, a key member of Harvard's 1989 NCAA championship team who went on to a long NHL career. Donato set a school record with 56 wins in his first three seasons behind the bench.
"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."
Leblanc had team-highs of 28 goals and 59 points to help the Lancers to a second-place finish in the USHL's West Division. Leblanc tied for eighth in the USHL in goals and tied for 10th in points.
Leblanc was recruited to Omaha by former coach Mike Hastings, who then accepted an assistant coach job with the University of Minnesota. Bliss Littler replaced him, and coach and player formed a strong bond. Leblanc said he was reassured by Littler, Hastings and team owner Luc Robitaille, like Leblanc a fellow Montreal native, that there would be a smooth transition.
"I wanted to go to college and I just thought this was the best option," Leblanc said. "The other option was prep schools and I thought this hockey was better, a really good program to come to. I talked to Luc Robitaille and Mike Hastings and was reassured.
"Luc came to the season opener and we've been talking on a regular basis, at least once a week or two. We're pretty close right now."
"Louis definitely won't be back next year; he's going to Harvard," Littler said. "You have to be a great student to get into Harvard and he is. My first contact with him was in June and he came down in July with his parents for a visit. He is refreshing. For a kid with that much ability to be that humble is rare. He's no prima donna. I've never had anyone of his ability be as humble and work as hard as he does."
Robitaille retired in 2006 as the NHL's all-time leading scorer among left wings with 668 goals and 1,394 points. He always could score, but his speed as a teenager left something to be desired, and he went to the Kings in the ninth round (No. 171) of the 1984 Entry Draft.
Leblanc, on the other hand, has been on hockey's radar for a long time because of his speed. He was a top youth-hockey player with the Lakeshore Minor Hockey Association before jumping up to the Lac St. Louis Lions, where he led Montreal's Midget AAA league in scoring two straight years -- and also led his team in penalties. Leblanc is a strong 6-foot and 178 pounds and he tries to emulate Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier.
"It's flat-out amazing how hard he works, and I've never seen, in 20 years of coaching, his level of competitiveness," 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," 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."
Leblanc had a team-high three goals plus two assists to help Canada to the gold medal at last year's Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in the Czech Republic. Littler said he wasn't surprised Leblanc excelled on the national team.
"He rises to occasions," Littler said. "He was very good over there in the Hlinka tournament so I'm excited to see what he is going to be able to do in the USHL playoffs. From what I've seen, Louis will be able to continue to succeed at higher levels."