No player on the Canadiens club the past two seasons has been as maligned and as misunderstood as Guillaume Latendresse. His critics are many, and they often point to deficiencies in his skating and his lack of quickness
Feeding the fire is the always moronic language argument that has lead many to believe that there is favoratism involved in him being in the NHL rather than the AHL.
He's not in the NHL because he has a big league shot!
And surely he's not in the NHL because he has the physique to deliver punishing hits!
He couldn't possibly be in the NHL because he has produced goals at a rate worthy of player on the top two lines, while getting third and fourth line shifts!
Of course not!
He's in the NHL simply because he's french!
And of course, the Canadiens need all the slow footed francophones they can get their mits on in order to fill that half Bell Centre!
No one will never disputed that his skating and quickness need work - lots of it. To that point, neither does the player, as he works on that aspect of his game with great effort, both in the offseason and during the year. If you haven't read about it, it's likely because you choose not to.
That he turns with all the agility of a tank is one thing, but his top speed is a more deceptive assessment when evaluating a big man.
Lost in the mire of the coach's pet bullshit many allude to, is the fact that Latendresse has produced at an NHL level for two seasons now. Not only have his numbers been comparatively good for a player his age, but they stack up well against team mates in important categories.
What needs to be adjusted most in respect to Guillaume Latendresse, are people's expectations of what he should have given the club as a 19 and 20 year old in his first two NHL seasons. Perceptions of what he can become one day, also need fine tuning.
Who are we asking this kid to be?
For two training camps, starting when he was 18, Latendresse was the team's leading scorer during exhibition games. He produced while playing on lines involving the clubs better players, and he continued to post numbers when given lesser linemates.
Of course the local press built him up to be the next Guy Lafleur, but is that his fault?
Maybe he shouldn't have done so good?
His successes lead to the club making some tough calls. In his second try, he made the team.
Since that time, he's received more vegetables than roses because in the eyes of some, his deficiencies outweigh what game he brings.
Part of what the Montreal Canadiens have done better than many other organizations in the past four seasons is nurture talent. They've drafted good players, but they have brought them along in even better ways.
The Habs brass have a knack for assessing exactly where a player sits in terms of being an NHL'er. They have precise ideas of what challenges a player needs to be faced with to improve, and they understand exactly what form of utilization is called for in order for a given player to rise and meet that challenge.
On that note, two seasons ago, they deemed Latendresse ready for the NHL challenge. While the player has endured the expected rough spots, he has fared well enough to resist demotion.
The Canadiens also take into great consideration that Latendresse's challenges involve more than just skating and speed issues. Trials dealing with mental toughness, defensive accountability, and adaptation are no longer facets of the game that he can profit from by toiling in the AHL.
Such a scenario would only occur if he regresses or requires discipline, and Latendresse takes matters too seriously for such a thing to happen.
In his first NHL season and his second, he scored 16 goals.
His second season's icetime dropped from 1008 total on ice minutes down to 894. The 114 minute decline can be attributed to not replacing an injured Chris Higgins on the club's top line for a twelve game stretch, as he did in 2006-07.
In the 2007-08 season, the loss of those quality minutes did not drop his goal production.
If one were to do a rough calculation of his goals per ice time ratio, in 2006-07, only three players did better, and this past season, the Kovalev line and Higgins, with substancially more ice, did better.
For his first season, Latendresse scored a goal for every 63 minutes of icetime, followed by one in every 59 minutes last season. Here's a breakdown:
Ryder (30) 1:45
Higgins (22) 1:50
Plekanec (20) 1:58
Latendresse (16) 1:63
Koivu (22) 1:67
Souray (26) 1:72
Kovalev (18) 1:74
Kovalev (35) 1:46
Kostitsyn (26) 1:47
Plekanec (29) 1:50
Higgins (27) 1:55
Latendresse (16) 1:59
Ryder (14) 1:66
Koivu (16) 1:87
When a player is statistically the third or fourth best shooter on the club as offensively minded as the Canadiens, it tells something.
This is especially true when the player is not benefitting from top line status, and is endeavoring to keep pace with different line mates on a constant basis.
Aside from scoring, Latendresse's game is slowly rounding out in other areas.
In both his years, Latendresse was third on the team in hits, despite his icetime. His plus minus was a brutal -20 in his rookie campaign, but a more than respectable -2 last season. Those improvements are attributable to nothing else but hard work and focus.
Considering the unjustifiable amount of pressure the kid is under as a local, his young age, and his limited skills in the skating department, I'd say the boy has done exceptionally well overall
When you figure in the atmosphere of negativity that he pursues his craft in, it could be said that Latendresse has almost overachieved in spite of it.
I think that for the player he is, he has done phenominally well for his age.
A prosperous, positive atmosphere, can only help him.
It is sickening how fans, and not just the french fans and media, treat what could eventually turn out to be a key componant in the club's offensive game. Night in and game out, he's harped on for not being what everyone wishes he was. Instead, he ought to accepted and valued for what he is.
If the Canadiens weren't grooming a player of his type, it would be demanded that it go out and get one.
As it stands, Latendresse will begin this season, his third, as a 21 year old potential 20 goal scorer. He'll continue to draw mostly third and fourth line duty while achieving that, but he's more than ready to be centered by either Koivu or Robert Lang, where he should prosper.
With improving skating and better conditioning, he'll be more adjusted to play in both ends, as well as continuing to hit like a piledriver.
What team wouldn't want a player such as Latendresse on their third line?