Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recent Q&A with Louis Leblanc (Courtesy of McKeen's)

McKeen's: After 15 games into the 2008-09 USHL season, your rookie and only season in the USHL, you're adjusting fairly well and averaging about a point per game.
Leblanc: Yep.
McKeen's: With that said, what have been some the biggest adjustments for you coming out of Quebec midget AAA?
Leblanc: Probably the speed and the size of the players. It's a lot faster game. You've got to keep your head up more often, I guess. It's a lot faster.
McKeen's: In what other ways is the USHL different from Quebec midget AAA?
Leblanc: I guess it's more up-and-down hockey, it's a lot more hitting. The guys are also older. We have a 15-year-old on our team, but also ranging up to 20-year-olds. Last year I had 16 and 17-year-olds.
McKeen's: Going back to your time with Lac St. Louis, you put up over a point per game as a 15-year-old.
Leblanc: Yep.
McKeen's: Which is a pretty good year, and over two points per game last season as a 16-year-old. Noting that, what were some of the highlights of your time with Lac St. Louis and what were the areas of your game that improved the most during those two years?
Leblanc: Well, the first year, I think, me and my buddy on the team, we had 31 goals. Then, the second year, I got 54 goals. I just think I had a lot of practices. I played a lot, so I had a lot of icetime. I was on the powerplay, PK, double shift. I think my endurance went up, and my shot, and my speed. Overall, I think those were two good years for me.
McKeen's: Now, this year, what are some of the areas of your game that you're focusing on improving with the Lancers?
Leblanc: Probably my shot, my d-zone, working on the d-zone coverage, getting the puck up. It's just trying to improve everywhere, and getting bigger.
McKeen's: On the other hand, what would you say are your existing strengths as a player and what type of style do you consider yourself or that you'd like to play?
Leblanc: Probably a two-way player. I like playing in our d-zone, the corners. I like when it gets a little tough. Then, I like making good breakout passes to my wingers, and then going to offense and trying to create something out there.
McKeen's: I remember a play tonight like what you described, where you were helping your defensemen down low, got the puck, skated from behind the net and started the breakout. Now, this summer you were selected to Canadian U-18 Selection Camp, and you were the only player not playing with a major junior team to be selected to that camp. So, what was it like to be named to that camp?
Leblanc: Oh, it was obviously a great honor. Representing Canada is a big deal for me, and it should be a big deal for every hockey player. I went out there to Calgary and I didn't know what to expect. You know, major junior guys, oooh, and whatever. I just went out there and worked hard, and I guess they liked what I put out for them on the ice and then I left for Slovakia and had a pretty good tournament there.
McKeen's: That goes perfectly into my next question, because you played for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and had three goals and two assists in four games, and you guys won the gold medal. Tell me about that experience.
Leblanc: It was great. We left from Calgary, it was a long flight, we got there, our stuff wasn't there, our sticks weren't there, so we couldn't practice the first day. But, when the stuff arrived, we practiced. We had a little rough game against the U.S., still managed to win that, and then we just picked it up from there. It was a battle, but we got it done.
McKeen's: Who were some of your Team Canada teammates on that team that impressed you the most and why?
Leblanc: Probably Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene, and maybe Jared Cowan on defense. They're just phenomenal players. I played with Matt and Taylor on a line, and the puck was just on your stick and you just had to tap it in. It was fun. It was a good experience.
McKeen's: How did you find that you matched up with your major junior teammates?
Leblanc: I think I did pretty well. We had Simon Despres on defense and Hubert Labrie on defense, and I think we were the only three from Quebec. I think I still managed to do pretty well. I put up some good numbers. I was a little impressed at the beginning, but I found I could play with those guys.
McKeen's: Not surprisingly, having represented your country, you've also represented your province.
Leblanc: Yep, at U-17s.
McKeen's: Yeah, at the Canada Winter Games in 2007 and then the usual World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Going back to 2007, what was it like to play for Team Quebec, since you'd just turned 16?
Leblanc: Yep, underage.
McKeen's: And then going to Whitehorse for the tournament.
Leblanc: Yeah. It was special. I was invited to summer camp, and I was a little disappointed. So, I started off the season strong and I showed the scouts, or whatever, that I should be there, got the tryout, made the team, and then off to Whitehorse. I don't think I'm ever going to go back there again, but it was fun. It was a different mentality, a different game. It was cold, obviously, but it was fun. It was still hockey.
McKeen's: That was a special event there, because they had a teams from every province, including Yukon and including the Northwest Territories, and I saw the Yukon was in your pool. What was it like playing Team Yukon and what was the reaction of the Canadian fans to having something where every province but Nunavut was represented?
Leblanc: It was fun. I think we played them in the first game. We started off soft. We really didn't think they were going to be that good. But, they had a pretty good team. I think they actually scored the first goal on us. It was the first game of the tournament, but we fought back and won 5-1, I think, that game. The fans were going pretty wild.
McKeen's: Whitehorse is a place that very few other people will end up going to in their lives, so tell me a bit about that area.
Leblanc: I think they built a lot of stuff just for that tournament. They built a sports complex and stuff for all the events, because it was not only hockey, it was wrestling, curling, figure skating, and more. It was alright. It was obviously a lot of snow. The food was alright, all the athletes ate at the same place, and we had busses. We didn't do much. We just played, ate, and slept.
McKeen's: Going back to the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, you led team Quebec in scoring with three goals and three assists in five games, with the normal combined provincial teams, except for Ontario and Quebec.
Leblanc: And countries were there, too.
McKeen's: Right, you beat me to that. What was it like at that event and how did it compare to the Canada Winter Games?
Leblanc: I think it was stronger than the first tournament I was in. The players were my age now, so it's kind of hard to compare. There's more players, more countries, and I think the overall play was a little faster. It was more an NHL-type of play.
McKeen's: Back in May you committed to Harvard. When did Harvard start talking to you, what was the recruiting process like, and what made you decide Harvard was the right place for you?
Leblanc: I think it started off after my first year of midget in Lac St. Louis. They started talking to me and wanted my transcripts and stuff to see if my grades were good enough. It was hard. It was a hard decision, but I had only a few schools in mind, and I just thought it was the best option. If I'm going to college, I want the best education possible. If the NHL doesn't work, then I have the best degree to work with. So, that was my main thing, and I think I could still be an NHL player going to Harvard.
McKeen's: There have been players from Harvard before and some still making a real go of it now.
Leblanc: And the coach played in the NHL.
McKeen's: Yeah, Ted Donato.
Leblanc: Teddy Donato's there. So, I think it's a special place to go.
McKeen's: If I might ask, what were some of the other programs that were pursuing you?
Leblanc: There were a few. I think it came to down to Vermont, BU, BC, and CC, UMass, I think Michigan was calling, and RPI.
McKeen's: A nice collection of programs. Off the college track, you were selected in the first round of the 2007 QMJHL Entry Draft, by Val-d'Or with the 18th overall pick, and you were considered as a candidate to go much higher, but there was the college thing, and you decided to go the USHL/college route. So, and you touched on this some, what made you decide to go this route?
Leblanc: How it works in Quebec is after your first year of midget, teams start talking to you and you have interviews. I told every team that I don't want to go to major junior. If you're going to draft me, you're just going to waste a pick. The first teams were smart, they didn't take a chance, they knew I wasn't coming. Then I guess Val-d'Or thought I had a deal with the Quebec Remparts, but I didn't have a deal. I just wanted to study, in case I didn't make it to the NHL. I just wanted something safe, you know? If I bust my knee tomorrow, at least I'm going to Harvard and I can do something with my life. That was the main reason.
McKeen's: Usually a Harvard degree means something.
Leblanc: Yeah. A little bit (smiles). Yeah.
McKeen's: You were also drafted in the second round of the USHL Futures Draft, and that was when Mike Hastings was the coach for the Lancers. What did the Lancers tell you at that time and did you have any reaction or concerns when Hastings went to Minnesota?
Leblanc: No, not at all. Obviously he recruited me, I guess, with their scouts and stuff. I came down to visit, I met him. I thought he was going to stay. But, hey, he got a job at the University of Minnesota. It's the world of hockey, everyone wants to move up. If I get a call tomorrow for the NHL, I'm going to go, you know? I guess it's normal, and he talked to me, he explained his situation, and he gave it to coach Littler, and said he was an excellent coach and things would be under control. I stuck with it and I just came down and talked to Luc, the owner, Robitaille. It felt like a good place, and so far I'm happy.
McKeen's: It is kind of cool having Luc Robitaille as your owner.
Leblanc: Yeah, for sure.
McKeen's: You're projected by some as a potential late first-round pick, second-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Do you ever think about or envision that, and if so, what do you see?
Leblanc: Not really. Right now, I know it's coming, it's in Montreal, too, and I come from Montreal, and there's going to be a lot of pressure. There's obviously a lot of pressure this year to put up points and play well. I'm just having fun right now, enjoying the times, and trying to get better. I'm not focusing on that right now. In June, I'll start worrying about.
McKeen's: Right, or maybe May, since there's a good chance you'll be invited to The Combine.
Leblanc: Yeah.
McKeen's: That'll be fun. Lastly, who were, and maybe are, some of your favorite players and who are some players you'd like to equate to?
Leblanc: I guess maybe Vinny Lecavalier. He's a good overall player, a good centerman, big centerman, good shot. He just works hard, he's in there, he puts up nice points, and I like his skill. (Pauses to think some more) Obviously the Crosby's and Ovechkin's, just their work ethic and stuff is unbelievable. I also kind of like Steve Begin for the Montreal Canadiens, a grinder in style. He's a fun guy to watch and I've been to the Bell Center a few times to watch the games, and he's out there and plays with heart and just has fun.
McKeen's: Definitely. Begin's a nice fourth-line player.
Leblanc: Yeah.

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