MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens general manager was hoping to make a splash at the National Hockey League entry draft, which began Friday night at the Bell Centre.
Instead, they settled for a ripple.
The draft fell the way the Canadiens — and the thousands of Montreal fans in attendance at the Bell Centre — had hoped when Louis Leblanc, a native of suburban Montreal, was available when the team exercised the 18th overall pick in the first round.
The fluently bilingual Leblanc became the first francophone to be drafted by the Canadiens in the first round since the team selected Eric Chouinard in 1998.
"It's like a dream come true to be drafted by the team I've rooted for all my life," said Leblanc, who played last season for the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League in preparation for attending Harvard University in the fall.
There was an air of anticipation in the building, spurred by Gainey's comments Thursday when he said that the Canadiens were pursuing a big centre through a trade. But Gainey also cautioned that the Canadiens might have to be patient. That was a virtue clearly missing among the faithful Friday night.
There were loud cheers each time NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that a trade had been made, but fans expecting a move from the Canadiens were disappointed. In an interview with TSN after selecting Leblanc, Gainey noted that there was only one trade involving an exchange of players on Friday night.
"Usually, the draft serves as a catalyst for trades, but that doesn't seem to be happening this year," Gainey said.
He went on to say that while the Canadiens have talked to other teams, there hadn't been any progress on a deal and he said that the pursuit of that elusive big centre may drag on until September.
Or maybe October.
Leblanc is a centre, but at six-foot and 178 pounds, he said he has to get bigger and stronger.
While most players at Harvard stick around for four years to earn a degree, Leblanc said he was prepared to move on as soon as the Canadiens felt he was ready. That could be after only one or two years.
"It's arguably one of the best universities in the world but I can always take courses in the summer or when I finish playing," said Leblanc.
Leblanc passed up a chance to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to maintain his NCAA eligibility. He was the leading scorer on an Omaha team that included Danny Kristo, the Canadiens' second-round pick a year ago.
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