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Learning to lead

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Max Pacioretty experienced a wide range of emotions in his first year as the Canadiens’ captain.

From the team getting off to a remarkable start right out of the gates to one of the toughest stretches in recent memory and a disappointing finish, the 2015-16 campaign tested Michel Therrien’s troops, especially the man sporting the coveted “C” on his chest.

Voted by his teammates as the 29th captain in franchise history just under three weeks before the start of the regular season, Max Pacioretty and his assistants P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Andrei Markov lost a big piece of the leadership puzzle in late November as Carey Price went down with a season-ending injury. He would ultimately play just 12 games all year.

“It’s easy to explain our lack of success by putting an emphasis on the leadership question. That isn’t wrong. We had some gaps there and I take that on my shoulders, but it’s also on our group of leaders and each one of the players. We need to be better in every facet of the game and leadership is one of them,” explained Pacioretty, who was the Canadiens’ top point-getter for a fifth consecutive season. “It’s important for me to say that. That means that everyone has to take some responsibility for what happened this year.”

When it comes to leadership, Pacioretty insists it isn’t necessary to be a top-line player, an All-Star defenseman or a world-class goaltender to have an impact in the dressing room. Proof of that is evident when Pacioretty says that his biggest inspiration in the leadership department is former teammate Manny Malhotra, who played with him for just one season.

Manny Malhotra was one of the best leaders I had the chance to play with. His way of getting everybody’s attention when he spoke was exceptional. He could tell you to be better, but he did it with the right level of emotion and the right tone,” mentioned Pacioretty, who admits that a captain’s job, in addition to setting a good example on the ice, is also to find the right way to say things to the rest of the group. “I need to do a better job with that. I’m not a very extroverted guy, so sometimes what I say doesn’t come out the right way. I can learn from that and be more comfortable.”

If Pacioretty wants to be more comfortable expressing himself in the dressing room, on the ice a lot of the leadership work has already been done. Since the 2012-13 campaign, the Canadiens’ No. 67 has led the way in goal-scoring and points. He’s also registered four 30-goal campaigns. Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel is the only American-born player who has managed to string together more seasons like that.

Among the players in the 2007 NHL Draft class, Pacioretty ranks third with 174 goals. The only players ahead of him are Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane. When it comes to points, he sits tied for fifth with Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds.

Personal success aside, Pacioretty knows full well that the mentality of a good leader always puts the team ahead of everything else. With so many injuries and call-ups from the AHL, the job of binding the group together this past season took up much of his time.

“When you get to the NHL, you need to have a different mentality than the AHL,” explained Pacioretty, who made the jump to the NHL ranks for good on December 15, 2010. “The coaches and management often remind players about being leaders when they get to this level. I can’t blame the young guys. I didn’t have that mentality when I got here. But, there were so many injuries this year that as a leader my job was especially focused on explaining to the rookies the importance of being professionals right from the start.”

Given Pacioretty’s accelerated on-the-job training in the art of being a captain and the advice he had to give out along the way, let’s just say that the Canadiens’ dressing room will undoubtedly be even richer in leadership ability in 2016-17. And, Price will be there to help out, too.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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