On Tuesday, the Phoenix Coyotes added to the depth of their roster with the acquisition of eight-year NHL veteran Mike Leclerc. Leclerc, who had spent his entire career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, was anxious to join his new teammates and prepare for the 2005-06 season.
"Initially I was pretty shocked," said Leclerc. "This is the first time in my career that I have been traded, but I couldn't have come to a better organization."
The addition of Leclerc adds depth on the wings to a roster already stacked with veteran leadership and experience. Leclerc, who has experience playing on both the left and right sides, knows that having a deep squad will prove to be valuable over the course of an NHL season.
"When you look at some of the moves that (General Manager) Mike Barnett has made, you see that this is going to be a very competitive hockey team," said Leclerc. "The Coyotes have a lot of talented guys up front and they are deep. We will be able to roll four lines every night and that is going to make it a lot harder for other teams to match-up against us."
Coming off a career year in 2001-02, where he set career highs with 20 goals, 24 assists (44 points) and 107 penalty minutes, Leclerc suffered a setback in 2002-03 with an injury plagued season, but still managed to lead the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals, where he led the club with nine assists in the post-season. In 2003-04 Leclerc was again hampered by a knee injury that limited his season to only 10-games. However, Leclerc has now fully recovered from surgery and is looking forward to returning to the form that made him a 20-goal scorer.
"Recovering from the surgery was certainly a long road for me," said Leclerc. "I was on crutches for a while, but the lockout really helped me because it gave me the chance to heal completely without having to rush back. Now I am feeling better that I have in four years."
As if being traded to a competitive Western Conference team wasn't enough of a bonus, Leclerc had to admit that the idea of playing for Wayne Gretzky was a quite literally a lifelong dream.
"It is going to be an absolute thrill," said Leclerc. "When I was a kid, the very first hockey sweater my parents gave me was an Oilers jersey with the number 99 on the back and my name across the top."
Now, Leclerc will have the opportunity to play for and impress the man he once idolized. And as for the jersey.
"Oh, I still have that jersey," said Leclerc. "I'll never get rid of it."
With all the player movement that the NHL has witnessed over the last few months, it is difficult for fans to identify with some of the players on their teams. But the Coyotes have assembled a hard-working, talented team with numerous players who have tremendous character and many who have persevered to overcome adversity. The Coyotes added another one of those players today in Mike Leclerc.