Seconds before the Montreal Canadiens made their first-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the television cameras cut to Louis Leblanc. Leblanc, an incoming Harvard freshman and highly-rated NHL prospect, looked around Montreal’s Bell Centre in silent anticipation. The Kirkland, Que. native would soon learn whether his hometown team would be selecting him with the 18th pick overall.
“I was pretty nervous throughout,” Leblanc said. “I didn’t know where I was getting [selected]. It was crazy—I had goose bumps.”
As Trevor Timmons, the Director of Player Recruitment for the Habs, spoke into microphone on June 26, the crowd fell silent. Then Leblanc’s name came out of Timmons’ mouth, and the audience erupted into applause and cheers. “Louis, Louis, Louis,” boomed through the arena. It was the first time since 1988 that Montreal had drafted a Quebecois skater in the first round.
Leblanc relaxed and let out a smile.
“I was back home in [Montreal] for that weekend,” captain Alex Biega wrote in an e-mail. “The place was going nuts. [Leblanc] is a celebrity there.”
Leblanc, possibly Harvard’s best recruit in 20 years, is only the second skater in Crimson history and seventh player in ECAC history to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft.
A 6-foot, 170-pound center, Leblanc was named MVP of his Quebec Midget AAA league for the 2007-08 season. For the 2008-09 campaign, Leblanc recorded 59 points in 60 games for the Omaha Lancers and was named the United States Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year.
But none of these accomplishments came close to the honor of being selected by the Habs, a team he’s been a lifelong fan of.
“For sure, no question about it,” Leblanc said. “It was the best moment of my hockey life so far.”
“I didn’t know what to think,” the 18-year-old added. “It was a dream come true. The fans were already chanting my name.”
Leblanc is one of six drafted players on the Crimson, including Biega, who was selected by the Buffalo Sabres and senior Doug Rogers, who was picked by the New York Islanders. The last Crimson player taken in the first round was Chis Biotti ’89.
In terms of preparing for the NHL, Leblanc pretty much had his pick of the litter. He could have played amateur hockey or at any school in the nation, including Boston University and Boston College, the past two NCAA Champions. But Leblanc chose Harvard with the goal of finding a balance between hockey and education.
“I thought it was better for me—for my life—to get a Harvard education,” Leblanc said. “Even if I play 20 years in the NHL, life still goes on after that.”
Leblanc’s ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, but he wants to get as much out of Harvard as he can before transitioning into a life of full-time hockey.
“I don’t know if I’m going to graduate in four years,” he said. “If I stay two years, my degree will be started and I can go back and finish. My education is really important to me.”
Last season, Leblanc got his first taste of living in the United States when he played amateur hockey for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL.
“I went to Omaha. [It was] pretty far away and not much to do there,” Leblanc said. “[But] it was a good stepping stone to college hockey—the highest level of hockey I’ve played.”
The Crimson will be counting on Leblanc and the rest of the freshman class to make strong contributions to the team this year. Harvard has a talented senior class, and Leblanc will need to adapt quickly for the team to make a run at the ECAC title.
“He will be an impact player right away for us,” Biega wrote. “The qualities he has is exactly what [our] team will be about this year. He is a blue collar player who has a tremendous amount of skill who will be able to score some goals for us next year.”