The statistics keep piling up for John LeClair – and so do the honors.
LeClair reached yet another career milestone when he lighted the lamp in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to Florida at Mellon Arena. It was the 400th career goal for the 15-year NHL veteran.
“Obviously, it would have been nice under different circumstances,” he said. “The only good news is that it’s over and hopefully people can stop talking about it and we can move forward.
The goal came in classic LeClair style, too. Positioned at the top of the crease, he deflected Noah Welch’s slap-shot. Florida goalie Roberto Luongo made a sprawling save, but LeClair gathered in the rebound and slid it into the goal in the second period.
“I picked up some garbage around the net and had an open net,” LeClair said. “I was pretty fortunate because the puck was sitting there after I tipped it.”
In his first season with the Penguins, LeClair established himself as one of the NHL’s premiere power forwards in a distinguished career that saw him play in Montreal and Philadelphia as well.
“I remember watching him in Montreal, he was as good down low as any player I’ve ever seen,” Penguins veteran radio play-by-play announcer Paul Steigerwald said. “He didn’t have big numbers back then, but he was a young player. Then, he went to Philly and it all came together. Seeing him in Montreal, there was no evidence he was going to be a big goal scorer, but you knew he was a guy who could grind it out down low and he was a really valuable power forward in that respect. Then, the goals started coming and you see how skilled he is. He worked at becoming a great goal scorer and he deserves what he gets. What makes him cool is that he’s kind of an indomitable force in front of the net.”
LeClair, a Vermont native, is only the seventh American-born player to reach 400 goals. Joe Mullen (502), Mike Modano (484), Jeremy Roenick (483), Pat LaFontaine (468), Keith Tkachuk (443) and Tony Amonte (404) are the other Americans in the exclusive 400-goal club.
“For me, it’s a lot more goals than I ever anticipated scoring,” LeClair said. “It’s something I am very proud of, but it’s also something for later on. It’s tough to sit back and look at achievements in the middle of the season. It’s a team sport.”
Already this season, LeClair reached 400 assists, 800 points and 900 games played. In 936 games, he has 400 goals, 403 assists and 803 points. In his last 17 games, LeClair has 17 points (8+9). He ranks third on the Penguins with 43 points (18+25).
“He missed all of last year and was coming off back surgery, too,” Steigerwald said. “To me, he is a real valuable guy to have and I hope he comes back next year. I feel bad for him that the season didn’t work out the way he wanted it to – he’s going to miss the playoffs for the first time in his career. But, at the same time, if he hangs around here for next year, I think he’s going to have a real good time.”
LeClair has brought a valuable veteran presence to a team filled with youngsters.
“I think it’s just a pleasure having him around. He’s just a nice guy. He’s a good person,” Steigerwald said. “He’s one of those quiet guys who goes out and just does his job. In that respect, he’s also a leader. He doesn’t say much, but you can tell he takes his job seriously. He’s like a warrior.”