CHICAGO – The past few days have been quite a whirlwind for Drew Leblanc.
The 23-year old center from St. Cloud State University signed his first professional contract with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent last week on the same day he was named the 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner as collegiate hockey's most outstanding player.
Then, because he signed after the National Hockey League's April 3 Trade Deadline, Leblanc was required to report straight to the Blackhawks rather than going to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
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"It was a very exciting day for me and my family also my [St. Cloud State] teammates," Leblanc said. "We shared so many great memories this year. We had a great run and it was a fun experience and it was something I'll never forget. [Now] I'm just here to work hard, have fun, take it all in, learn what it's like to be a professional and get as many pointers as possible. That's about it, I guess."
Leblanc, who tallied 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) in 42 games for St. Cloud State this season, spent his first day as a professional player going through drills on Monday morning at United Center with a handful of Blackhawks veterans. Later in the day, prior to Chicago's game against the Dallas Stars, he was spotted walking into the arena with 24-year old Blackhawks star captain Jonathan Toews.
Not a bad introduction to the NHL by any measure of comparison.
"I've only been around the guys for a couple hours," Leblanc said, when meeting with a flock of Chicago media prior to the game. "The older guys have been around and talked to me quite a bit. It's been good getting to know them and I look forward to getting to know the rest of the guys and younger guys that are living at the same place I am."
The Blackhawks have quite a few young players on the roster, filling some key roles, and that's what drew Leblanc to Chicago the most. He didn't know how many teams were after him – leaving those details to the agency that represents him – but there was really only one team on his mind.
The reason was the Blackhawks' growing reputation as a good place for young talent to develop quickly.
"I hope to be in their position at some point," Leblanc said of the Hawks' up-and-coming prospects and current players. "Chicago does have a great reputation for developing young guys and I think that's a big thing. I hope they can help me out a little bit."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn't know when or if he'll get a chance to work Leblanc into a game over the final seven regular-season contests, but took a peak at his workout on Monday morning.
"We'll get a good chance with him to get some practice time and get acclimated to our team game and the NHL pace," Quenneville said. "No promises when he'll play, but hopefully we'll get a chance to get him in there. He's got some skill, got a real nice set of hands [and has] a nice feel offensively. Watching him skating [Monday morning] you can see him on the offensive side of things be pretty handy or pretty nifty."
Leblanc, who played three seasons with the Chicago Steele of the United States Hockey League prior to his time at St. Cloud State, signed just a one-year contract with the Blackhawks because of his age. After this season, he will become a restricted free agent with Chicago – which will then have the right to sign him to a longer deal or match any contract offer sheets other teams might potentially entice him to sign.
Based on his enthusiasm for being a Blackhawks player, however, that seems like a remote scenario – with the more likely outcome being an extension to stay in the Chicago system.
"It's a professional organization from the top down," Leblanc said. "They have a good reputation with developing young players [and] I hope to be one of those guys."