As the NHL draft got under way in sunny Sunrise, Fla., on June 23, 2001, Pascal Leclaire thought he had a sense of where he might be drafted.
The New York Rangers held the No. 10 overall pick and were in need of a goalie, with the lion's share of the team's starters the previous season going to 34-year-olds Mike Richter, Kirk McLean and Guy Hebert. A spot ahead of the rangers at No. 9, Chicago also seemed to be interested in drafting someone to bolster Jocelyn Thibault after he had allowed the most goals in the league the year before.
Video: Where Are They Now for Feb. 12, 2021.
But sitting quietly with the eighth overall pick was a Columbus team that saw a special talent in Leclaire, even if he didn't know it at the time. And when Doug MacLean strode to the podium and made the Repentigny, Quebec, native and Halifax Mooseheads goalie his choice, Leclaire was a Blue Jacket.
"To be quite honest, from what we heard before the draft, I thought it was going to be more Chicago or New York," Leclaire told BlueJackets.com for the latest edition of Where Are They Now? presented by Huntington Bank. "I knew they were looking for a goalie. And Columbus was sitting right before them at pick No. 8 and I had met them several times. I met (goalie coach Rick Wamsley), Doug MacLean, had some good interviews, but they never gave me a hint they needed a goalie, especially with Marc Denis being a young guy in the organization.
"It was a bit of a curveball that came my way when I heard my name, but I was very, very excited."
Two of those names -- Wamsley and Denis -- are two people Leclaire credits in his development from an athletic but young netminder into an NHL player, with the man known as "Pazzy" debuting with two games in the 2003-04 season. Two years later, after the lockout, he started 33 games, and finally his career arc to being a No. 1 goalie came into shape in 2007-08.
That season, the team's first full year under Ken Hitchcock, Leclaire got off to a hot start with six shutouts in his first 15 games, setting a team record before the month of November even ended. He'd go on to notch nine shutouts that year, with the final one coming in his hometown of Montreal, a mark that remains tied for second in franchise history. On the whole, he was 24-17-6 in 54 games with a 2.25 GAA and .919 save percentage.
"It was a little bit of everything coming together," he said now. "After a few years in the minors, I had a couple of years under my belt. I was hurt the year before -- I had a knee problem that took a while (to rehab). I had a long summer of training, so I probably came in in really good shape. Obviously the team was focusing with Ken Hitchcock, we had a defensive system as well put in that the guys were able to put in place a few months at the end of the season the season before, so we had a good start as a team. I guess some nights, the puck was rolling my way."
Unfortunately for Leclaire, the next season went the opposite way. He played in just 12 games before the combination of an ankle injury and the emergence of rookie Steve Mason short-circuited his campaign, and with the team looking to bolster the roster at the trade deadline ahead of the first postseason appearance in franchise history, he was traded to Ottawa in a deal that netted Antoine Vermette.
He'd play just two years for the Senators before recurring injuries ended his career, and he now lives in the Montreal area with his wife and kids. Leclaire's names till dots the CBJ record books, though, as he remains fifth in games played, wins and save percentage in franchise history.
Watch the whole episode of Where Are They Now? in the video above, as Leclaire talks about battling through injuries, his time in Columbus, how much he enjoys returning to the city, his current beer league exploits and his enduring friendship with Rick Nash.