Leblanc raised expectations with a solid first pro season after major surgery in the offseason. Can he impress us enough to move up the rankings next year?
There isn't too much more to be said about Louis Leblanc at this stage than what we've already said. Here at EOTP we've been dissecting Louis all year to see what we have in him. Before last season we tempered our expectations with Leblanc, most of us agreeing that if he became an above average 3rd liner, we'd be pretty happy. We also didn't expect him to get a second of NHL ice time in 2011-12, especially coming off of major shoulder surgery that hindered his offseason plans of putting on muscle.
Well we sure were wrong about the NHL opportunities. Leblanc ended up playing for the Montreal Canadiens for over half of the season, and acquitted himself far better than any of us expected him to. Leblanc was actually 7th on the team in even strength point production with 1.34 points per 60 minutes played. Leblanc also generated the 6th most even strength shots per 60 minutes played at 7.787/60, just under Aaron Palushaj, who's 2 years Leblanc's senior.
That is right in line for Leblanc though, he's a high volume shooter. Last year Stephan noted that Leblanc had a ridiculous 240 shots in just 51 QMJHL games for the now defunct Montreal Junior. Leblanc followed that up by showering AHL goalies with shots this year, with 112 shots in just 31 games.
What does this mean for Leblanc though? Earlier in the year I mused about whether he could pull a Pacioretty style scoring explosion. Leblanc doesn't have the size, speed, or deadly release that Pacioretty has, so the comparison isn't exactly apt, but the point I was making still applies. Like Max Pacioretty, Leblanc has experienced poor shooting luck in both the AHL and NHL to start his pro career. Like Max Pacioretty, Leblanc has put up very impressive shot totals in both leagues for a young player. Louis isn't going to be a perennial 30+ goal scorer like I believe Pacioretty is, but 20 goals isn't out of the question if his true shooting talent is around 11%.
To add to this, if Leblanc had similar ice time and Stephan Coopers projected shot translations hold up, Leblanc is set to become the fifth highest volume shooter on the Habs next year at just 21.
There was almost no divergence on where Leblanc ranks within the system, as only Kevin was off by over 2 spots from the average.
|Player||Berkshire||Cooper||Peter||Boyle||van Steendelaar||Dahan||Ive||Boucher||La Rose||Rice|
Louis Leblanc 1st career goal 12/15/11 (via NHLVideo)
STRENGTHS: As I believe I've mentioned once or twice so far, Leblanc is a high volume shooter. His offensive game is very similar to Brian Gionta in that he shoots from anywhere on the ice instead of picking his spots. This may keep his career shooting percentage lower than average for a top 6 forward. Leblanc's biggest strength as a junior player hasn't manifested in the pros as much yet, and that is his board play. While he's certainly above average for his age, his offseason shoulder surgery impaired his strength and he wasn't the battle winning behemoth that he was in the Q or in the World Junior Championship. After a full summer with no injury troubles, we may see a much stronger Louis this season.
WEAKNESSES: Last season Leblanc's biggest weakness was simply that he wasn't as strong physically as he wanted to be. Shoulder surgery really hurt his upper body strength and because of that, he couldn't exploit his biggest advantage, and couldn't work a cycle game either. Skating is also not Leblanc's forte. He's not Hal Gill, but he's noticeably slow in comparison to the other Habs forwards. There are tons of players who have had great careers without being elite skaters, but that could be the one thing to hold him back from being a top 6 guy. Other than skating, Leblanc doesn't really have any glaring weaknesses. He's good at just about everything but great at very little.
PROJECTION: Louis will have a little bit less pressure on him this season, as he's no longer the only great French hope in the system, with Michael Bournival joining the pro ranks. Alex Galchenyuk also takes over as the highest drafted forward in the system, so less hangs on Leblanc being great. Leblanc has probably earned himself the right to be the first call up to this year's Canadiens team if he doesn't make the team outright. He does have a ton of competition on the right wing however, and may see some time at center to mitigate some of the congestion there. Unless Aaron Palushaj starts producing at the NHL level at a solid pace, expect Leblanc to get somewhere around 50 NHL games in 2012-13 (pending a full 82 game season of course). While Leblanc hasn't moved up the rankings in number, he's certainly one step closer to being a solid NHLer for years to come.
|#7: Brendan Gallagher||#6: Louis Leblanc||#5: Nathan Beaulieu|