With a 1-8-2 record heading into the last game of the decade, it looked like the Harvard men’s hockey team would need something or someone special to help turn its season around.
That someone turned out to be freshman forward Louis Leblanc, a first-round NHL draft pick last year.
“He’s been a big asset ever since he set foot on campus,” captain Alex Biega said.
Leblanc started heating up when on Dec. 29 he scored one of the Crimson’s goals in a 3-1 upset over then No. 10 Quinnipiac.
But the freshman really got into gear in the new decade, scoring five goals in the past four games, the Crimson’s first unbeaten streak of the season. He scored two goals to lead Harvard to a 3-2 victory over No. 5 Yale, and then tallied two more the next game against Dartmouth. This makes Leblanc the first player to turn in back-to-back multi-goal games since Dominic Moore last performed the feat nearly seven years prior.
Leblanc’s efforts proved crucial again in the most recent game—a 3-3 tie against Rensselaer—scoring the game-tying goal with three seconds remaining in regulation. Early that night, he forced a turnover to set up an Alex Killorn goal, helping the Crimson rally from a 2-0 deficit entering the third period.
“I think what differentiates him is that he’s 100% willing to go into the corner and take hits,” Biega said. “He grinds out games.”
His recent and especially consistent efforts have prized him with his second straight ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week accolade.
It is this kind of tenacity that caught the eyes of the Montreal Canadiens, who picked him as their top draft pick, making him the first Quebec native to be selected first by the Canadiens in 21 years. Leblanc was 18th overall.
“It felt awesome. It was a dream come true,” Leblanc said in an email. “I’ve always been a Canadiens fan.”
Leblanc’s talents earned him a reputation in the province early on.
“I always heard growing up about Louis Leblanc, that he’s going to be a good player,” said junior Mike Biega, a Montreal native. “I’d watch [my brother] Danny play against him and people would always talk about Louis Leblanc.”
The Kirkland, Quebec native was the Most Valuable Player of the Quebec Midget Hockey League in 2007-2008 while playing for the Lac St. Louis Lions alongside Harvard teammate Danny Biega. The following year, he was named the United States Hockey League Rookie of the year. In his spare time, he won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
But his rise to prominence hit a speed bump at the NHL Combine where his intention to play for Harvard proved to be a disadvantage. The NCAA 48-hour rule meant that he had to complete the entire process of interviews and testing in two days while prospects not bound for college had more time.
But it may have been this disadvantage that allowed him to join his favorite team as Leblanc had initially been projected to be a top ten pick, which meant that Montreal wouldn’t have been able to sign him.