MONTREAL – Louis Leblanc’s learning curve is about to get steeper.
Before the season started, there are few people who could have predicted that by this point in 2011-12, Leblanc would already have 37 NHL games under his belt. Even fewer would have expected him to hitting double digits in points or being called on to shoot last in an NHL shootout. Leblanc has seen his responsibilities increase along with his ice time as the season comes to a close and no one knows better than P.K. Subban how helpful that extra on-the-job training can be for a young player.
“It was a little bit different when Louis came than when I came up. We had some injuries so I was kind of put in that position right away to play a lot of minutes but he’s earned it,” stressed Subban, who was already playing over 20 minutes a night in place of Andrei Markov four games into his call up during the 2010 Playoffs. “[Louis] has worked hard and he’s put himself in a great position going into next year. He’s played well when he’s gotten the opportunity and he’s just got to continue to do that.”
The 22-year-old blue-liner may only be a year-and-a-half older than Leblanc, but he’s already proving to be a great mentor for the Montreal native. Who better to learn how to deal with the pressures of playing under the spotlight than a guy who’s done it since Day 1 in the league?
“I think at this level for young guys, for myself and for him, the toughest thing is to be consistent. I’m sure he’s going to learn pretty quick that you’ve got to do it every night,” warned Subban. “He’s working hard every day at practice and he’s learning every day. When you speak to him he’s listening and taking it all in and it’s good to see.
“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know him pretty well. I drive him to the rink every day and he’s a good guy and I’m happy to see him working hard and playing well,” he added. “He’s finding ways to create some offense and he’s not a liability in his own zone. He’s doing a good job and he’s learning and you can’t say anything but good things about him. Hopefully he keeps it up.”
Having spent his previous three call-ups from Hamilton adapting to the speed of the NHL, Leblanc seems to have found his groove. In a career-high 17:20 against the Panthers, the 21-year-old scored his fifth goal of the season, was on for the first shift in overtime, shot last in the shootout and earned second star honors to cap his night’s work.
“It’s going well,” offered Leblanc, who also dished out four hits on Tuesday night. “It’s really hard to score goals in this league. When you get the puck, you have to make the most of it. Fred [St-Denis] made me a great pass and it happened really fast. I just went with a deke I use all the time in practice.”
Another lesson Leblanc has learned the hard way early on in his young career: if you’re not going to pass to the veterans, you’d better make sure you score.
“I actually didn’t even realize there were two guys behind me,” promised Leblanc with a laugh, referring to David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty watching as the rookie slid home the 3-on-0 goal without looking in either of their directions. “Believe me; the guys gave it to me in the room a little bit after that one.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Postgame: P.K. Subban | Louis Leblanc | Randy Cunneyworth
The Numbers Game - March 27, 2012