A lot of the talk among both the media and Montreal Canadiens fans early in the season has been about the future; how the new guard of Habs youngsters will adapt to the NHL level. However, Monday night’s game at the Bell Centre against the struggling Detroit Red Wings was centred around one man, and he’s been here for a while.
Tomas Plekanec made his 1000th NHL appearance against the Wings, and the occasion was more than fittingly celebrated with a fantastic in-game acknowledgement. The 35-year-old Czech was given a standing ovation by the Montreal faithful for his contribution to the Canadiens organization.
‘Pleky’ has had a long and illustrious career. He was drafted all the way back in June of 2001 in the third round of the draft, with the 71st overall pick, having played Junior hockey with his hometown side, HC Kladno, then of the Czech Extraliga. To put that in perspective, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was not even one year old when Plekanec was selected by the Habs.
Despite making his NHL debut during the 2003-04 season, it took until 2005-06 for the centreman to become a more permanent fixture in the Habs' lineup. His progress throughout his first three proper seasons in the big leagues was clear to see: he put up 29 points in 67 games in 05-06, following up with 47 points in 81 games the next season, and recorded 69 points in 81 games the year after that.
Plekanec would go on to amass at least 50 points in five of his next eight years, establishing himself as one of the Canadiens’ most consistent and reliable offensive producers.
By the time of his somewhat painful trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Plekanec had racked up 232 goals and 371 assists with the Habs, and following a stint with Toronto in their unsuccessful post-season run, he was back, and in time to celebrate a wonderful milestone.
In total, the three-time World Championship medal-winner has played 990 games for the Canadiens organization, and will almost certainly pass 1000 games played for the historic franchise. The last player to pass 1000 Habs appearances was Larry Robinson back in 1992, and Pleky will join company such as Claude Provost, Jean Béliveau, Bob Gainey and Henri Richard when he hits that mark.
A wonderful career thus far deserved to be recognized in appropriate fashion, and the ovation Plekanec received was touching and rousing in equal measure. The veteran lifted the lid to share his thoughts after the match.
”It was special. I’ve been here for so long and I know the crowd is unbelievable here and I love to play here at the Bell Centre and they showed it again tonight. It was awesome of course. It feels great. I would never dream of something like that when I started here. It was a hell of a ride.”
The Czech and his teammates responded to the occasion in perfect fashion, with Plekanec scoring the second goal en route to a 7-3 rout of the Red Wings. It was in many ways a goal so typical of the man: a show of fantastic composure and vision to take the puck around the netminder, a good piece of instinctive play to throw the puck into a dangerous area, and a slice of luck that saw a defenceman deflect it past his own goalie.
Max Domi may have only been with the team for a brief amount of time, but he perfectly understood what and who Monday night was all about.
”We won this game for him. We have so much respect for Pleky as a player and as a person. We’re all so happy for him. He deserves every bit of credit he gets. It’s cool to be a part of. Hopefully he plays 1000 more.”
In spite of the rich history of the Canadiens franchise, Plekanec became just the fourth Habs player to score in his 1000th game. But now, the attention turns away from what has been and gone for Tomas, and we must look at what might be.
Plekanec has a big role to play in helping nurture and develop the group of young forwards that the Habs have found themselves with. The likes of Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, and Ryan Poehling, even other youthful figures such as Domi, Jonathan Drouin, and Nikita Scherbak, can benefit from having such a veteran presence around.
The centres will be able to learn from one of the top two-way players in their position over the last 15 years just what it takes to make it in the NHL. Not only that, but the wingers will also profit from having an intelligent defensive player on their shifts and available in practice.
Furthermore, Plekanec could also play a vital part this season for Claude Julien and the Habs. Having a player so smart and so experienced on the fourth line is really a good indication of depth, and with many forced to take notice after the Canadiens’ surprising 3-1-1 start, who knows how far he and team can go this season?
Plekanec has been a model professional, serving this franchise with pride and honour, through ups and downs. And yet, we already look forward to what is yet to come.