-- Montreal Canadiens
fans were hoping their team would come out of the first round of the draft with a French-Canadian player.
And they did -- Pointe-Claire, Quebec native Louis Leblanc
, chosen with the 18th pick of the first round Friday night.
The packed crowd at the Bell Centre responded to the selection with prolonged chants of "Louie! Louie!"
"It felt pretty special," Leblanc told NHL.com. "It doesn't happen everyday that 20,000 people are screaming your name."
Leblanc had 28 goals and 59 points in 60 games with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League. He was the league's rookie of the year, and was eighth in the USHL in goals.
"The package of skills," Canadiens GM Bob Gainey told NHL.com when asked what sold him on Leblanc. "He's a very intense player, very competitive, driven to score."
That Leblanc is a local product also entered into the equation.
"There's often players that come through the draft that just don't come into our area of the draft," Gainey said. "We've got great players from Quebec playing in other places around the NHL that when they became available in the draft they just weren't in our area. When you're not able to get your hands on them they go other places. When there is a local guy who can add that and keep the French tradition that's attached to the Montreal team intact, it's part of our need and responsibility to respond."
Gainey knew selecting Leblanc would excite his fan base. The Canadiens' first pick in last year's draft, second-round pick Danny Kristo
, is an American, as were their three previous first-round picks, 2007 choices Ryan McDonagh
and Max Pacioretty
, and 2006 first-round pick David Fischer
"I think we knew they would be (excited)," Gainey said. "We knew the people were looking for us … the one thing about the draft being here is the people know who is being selected. They know all the players … but a local guy like Louis is definitely on our fans' radar screens."
Gainey also liked the fact Leblanc chose a more difficult development route. Rather than stay in his home province and play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he chose to go to Omaha, and in the fall he'll go to Harvard University.
"He's a local player but he's one who's decided to make difficult choices, make transitions," Gainey said. "Last year he moved and lived and played and went to school in the U.S. He's decided he's going to follow the U.S. college route for developing. His desire to have an education at Harvard, he's making strong choices for himself. He's not making the easy choices. That's a sign of character we need to have in all our players."
Physical development will be Leblanc's goal next season at Harvard. At 6-foot and 176 pounds, he needs to get stronger to play at the next level. And when that happens, Gainey believes it won't take much more for him to make it to the NHL.
"He's going to have to mature physically," Gainey said. "He's a mature kid mentally, but he's going to have to get bigger and stronger. We've had other players -- Chris Higgins
, (Mike) Komisarek -- who have played in the U.S. college system, and at some point they decide the competition, they've passed it by and they need stronger competition. I would say it's at least two years, and then the hard decision comes."
Leblanc said he hopes to someday get back to the Bell Centre.
"I bring skill and energy up front to make the Habs better," Leblanc said. "Hopefully I'll get to play here one day and start my NHL career."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.