Louis Leblanc in 2010. The former Lac-St-Louis player has been traded to the Anaheim Ducks.
Photograph by: Marco Campanozzi, Gazette files
MONTREAL — The Canadiens gave up on Louis Leblanc a while ago, but they made it official Saturday.
General manager Marc Bergevin made his first public move of the off-season when he traded the rights to Leblanc, the team’s first-round draft choice (18th overall) in 2009, to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional fifth-round draft choice in 2015.
It is a case of getting something for nothing. Leblanc is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after his entry-level contract expired and the Canadiens had already decided not to offer him a new deal.
“After three seasons with the Canadiens organization we felt that moving forward the best option for Louis and our organization was to give him the opportunity to pursue his career with another team,” Bergevin said a statement on the team’s website. “Throughout his entire stay with our organization Louis showed great professionalism and a constant desire to improve. We thank him for his contribution and wish him success for the continuation of his career.”
Head coach Michel Therrien, who was given a four-year extension Saturday, said he hoped Leblanc would “blossom in another environment.”
Leblanc’s tenure with the Canadiens was marked by unfulfilled promise. A midget star with the Lac St. Louis Lions, Leblanc heard chants of “Louis, Louis” when he was selected by the Canadiens in the 2009 draft at the Bell Centre. He had completed a successful season with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League and was on his way to Harvard. It was a popular choice because Leblanc was the first francophone to be selected in the first round since Eric Chouinard in 1998. Chouinard would go on to play 90 NHL games over four seasons, including 13 for the Canadiens.
Leblanc abandoned the Ivy League after one year, deciding major junior hockey offered a quicker route to the NHL. He turned pro after one good, but not great, season with the Montreal Juniors.
The dysfunctional 2011-12 season provided Leblanc a chance to play in the NHL as a rookie pro. He had five goals and five assists in 42 games and was a plus-3 while playing on a checking line.
There was some concern over Leblanc’s inability or unwillingness to add some muscle to his 6-foot, 178-pound frame, but there was also a disconnect between Leblanc and the Canadiens over his role with the team. When he headed to Hamilton in 2012 to wait out the lockout, he bristled at the idea of being assigned to a checking line. That was the role the Canadiens envisioned for him in the NHL and Bergevin said Leblanc had to realize “there are a lot of third-line players making a good living in the NHL.”
A high-ankle sprain slowed his progress in Hamilton, but it was his attitude that left him in Hamilton when the lockout ended and he wasn’t invited to a stripped-down Canadiens training camp. He was also ignored when the Canadiens recalled a number of players during the playoffs.
Leblanc was recalled twice during the past season and failed to earn a point in eight games. The second call-up, a three-game stint in late January, served to confirm he didn’t fit in the team’s long-term plans.
Bergevin has far more important issues to deal with over the next two weeks with defencemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov heading up a list of potential free agents. While no official announcement has been made, the team has decided not to offer contracts to unrestricted free agents Thomas Vanek, George Parros and Douglas Murray.
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