John LeClair spent the last 10 seasons making Philadelphia the Beast of the East. Now, he's ready to help Pittsburgh become the Best in the West.
LeClair ensured his cross-Pennsylvania migration Monday when he signed to join the Penguins.
"I am really excited. I think it is going to be a great opportunity for me," he said. "There are a lot of exciting things happening to the team and I am looking forward to being a part of it."
The Penguins are eager to add LeClair's talent to an already star-studded lineup. The 36-year-old power forward is yet another weapon to a Pittsburgh arsenal that contains Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, Sidney Crosby, Ziggy Palffy, Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Malone, among others. Alone, Palffy and LeClair have combined for 616 goals since the 1995-96 season.
"Obviously, with what happened at the draft and with the young players they have had in the past who are a year older and better and the veterans they added - Pittsburgh improved its team tremendously. I am excited to be a part of it," LeClair said. "The style of game they are going to try to play is very attractive to me. Look at what all they have at forward and they have defensemen who can move puck and are strong. They added a goaltender in (Jocelyn) Thibault. They are a very solid team all around."
While LeClair was drawn to Pittsburgh for its offensive explosiveness and capability to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, the prospect of playing with Recchi again was a huge bonus. LeClair and Recchi spent the previous six seasons across the state as Philadelphia Flyers.
"That is a plus. That is a big part of going there," LeClair said. "I talk to him all the time and it will be nice to play with a guy I played with in Philly for six years. He's always been a great teammate and I look forward to playing with him."
Penguins excitement was very intense with the selection of Crosby as the first-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft and the new player acquisitions. LeClair's signing only intensified the exhilaration like gasoline thrown on a fire.
"Which is great. That will be the biggest plus. After the mess we had last year, it's great to get the excitement of hockey back," LeClair said. "With the way Pittsburgh stepped up to get players and the players they are developing, it's real exciting, especially for that town. They have come a long way."
LeClair, a 14-year veteran, welcomes the opportunity to help educate the Penguins' young core of talented players.
"I will do whatever is asked of me," he said. "I am very open to do whatever they need."
LeClair established himself as one of the NHL's top power forwards throughout his distinguished career. He is healthy and ready to contribute for the Penguins.
"That was the big thing for me - getting healthy. That's why I am really anxious to start. I want to see how things turned out," he said. "I have been looking forward to it."
LeClair believes a year off refreshed and energized him for this season. Penguins training camp opens Sept. 13.
"I am hoping that will be a positive," he said. "It's one thing that you don't know until it happens."
After spending a decade playing for archrival Philadelphia, LeClair is not sure what it will be like to play against the Flyers while donning Penguins black and gold.
"I won't know that until it happens," he said. "I can't complain. Philly was good to me for 10 good years. It was time to move on. You never know where you will end up. Once this free agency started opening up I didn't know what to expect."
He sure is glad he made the migration to Pittsburgh.
"I have always liked Pittsburgh. It's one of the better cities to go to," he said "The fans seem very involved with the team. The city itself always impressed me. It's very clean and a nice small city. I always liked it.
"I am excited to go there and just start being a part of the Penguins."