Leblanc Chooses Montreal; Habs sign Picard

Finally, some blog-worthy news to come out of the Montreal Canadiens’ camp.

It was announced on Friday evening that the Montreal Canadiens have signed 1st round pick Louis Leblanc to a three-year contract. While terms of the contract were not released, you can expect it to hover around the league maximum for an entry-level contract.

The deal means that Leblanc will leave Harvard and his team, the Crimson, after only one year at the Ivy-league university, to come back to his hometown and play for the Montreal Junior of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. While he is eligible to play for the Hamilton Bulldogs, he will likely spend the season in the Q, in order to fill out his frame, hone his skills, and get used to playing a full hockey season.

Leblanc’s decision comes after several months of discussions between fans of whether he would be better off staying in Harvard and gaining an education, while playing a reduced schedule with the Crimson, or whether he should come back to the bright lights of Montreal and be the star player for the Junior, all the while playing more games in a league that has delivered plenty of players to the NHL.

Obviously, there are arguments for each side, and it seems like Leblanc has chosen to forgo his education, for the moment, in order to see what it’s like to play in the mecca of hockey, as a star.

The West-Islander and 19-year-old center played 31 games with the Harvard Crimson last season, tallying 11 goals and 12 assists with a +2 rating. The year before, he played with Omaha of the USHL, tallying 69 points in 60 games. He is 6’1″ and about 185lbs, but these figures could still go up. He is also a right handed shot, something the Canadiens have desperately needed at the center position for year.

Leblanc was also invited to Team Canada’s World Junior camp in Newfoundland next week, and could see action for a third time with a Canadian national team this upcoming December in Buffalo. The Montreal Junior’s camp is scheduled to start on August 15th, and Leblanc will likely be invited to the Canadiens’ camp in September.

The biggest winner in all of this is arguably the Montreal Junior, who get a player who will be an NHLer in a few years. They also bank on the trade they made earlier this year, sending Guillaume Asselin and a first round choice in the 2011 draft to acquire Leblanc’s rights. Robert at Habs Eyes on the Prize calls Leblanc’s move to play junior in the city “unprecedented”, in an excellent article running down Leblanc’s career so far and what’s to come of the young player in the next few years.

What we can gather for certain from the deal is that Leblanc will now become one of the most closely watched and heavily scrutinized players this organization has seen in years. He has thrown himself into the media fire, and will have to prove that he can handle it on top of his on and off ice duties with the Junior, and eventually, the Montreal Canadiens.

While staying in Harvard would have shown maturity and his dedication to an education and bettering himself, and his life after hockey, coming to Montreal shows guts, determination, and that he isn’t afraid of what this city might do to him.

I am definitely looking forward to seeing Leblanc play up close and personal this upcoming season in Verdun, and I can bet that the Junior’s average attendance is about to go up significantly.

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HABS SIGN PICARD

Have the Habs FINALLY found their captain? Probably not, but they have added a player who could be the subject of many jokes if he was named captain, and one who will provide depth on defense while Andrei Markov rehabs the blown tendon in his knee.

RDS is reporting that the Canadiens have signed defenseman Alexandre Picard to a one-year, two-way contract. No word on a term yet, but considering all the signings Pierre Gauthier has been making lately, it won’t be for much.

Picard split last season between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes, scoring 4 goals and 11 assists in 45 games with the Sens, and no point sin 9 games with the Canes. A native of Gatineau, Quebec, Picard is 6’3″ and 215lbs, a good size for the Canadiens.

Picard will obviously be this year’s version of Marc-Andre Bergeron, who was acquired early in the season after (you guessed it) Andrei Markov suffered a lacerated ligament in his leg in the first game of the season. With the arrival of PK Subban on the scene, however, the Canadiens did not have a need for a powerplay specialist, instead opting for a bigger, tougher defenseman than Bergeron to fill the void on the blueline. The two-way contract also ensures that Picard will not have to remain on the roster if the Canadiens end up with too many defensemen later in the year.

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IN OTHER NEWS…

- The Canadiens also announced on Friday that they had re-signed defenseman Alex Henry to a two-way contract, to remain with the Hamilton Bulldogs in his duties as captain.

- The Habs lost their other connection to Harvard yesterday, as the Tampa Bay Lightning announced the signing of Dominic Moore to a two year contract worth $2.2 million, only $100,000 more a year (on average) than what he was paid last year. Yup. Had enough yet, Stevie?

- Finally, in lighter news, Georges Laraque will be named Deputy leader of Canada’s Green Party. Yup.

There will be plenty more to come as we start to rev up for the upcoming season and rosters begin to be finalized. Already today there have been several new contracts to report, including Anti Niemi’s arbitration decision, awarding him a $2.75 million contract. Could this mean that a Carey Price announcement could be on its way, with the closest (albeit cup-winning) comparable out of the way (assuming the Hawks even accept the deal)?

There will be plenty to talk about, including the long-promised position-by-position Habs analysis, so stay LOCKED on The Checking Line as well as Hockey Independent for all the news, analysis and breakdowns!

Prax
TheCheckingLine.com
Twitter.com/GeorgePrax

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About the Author: George Prax, born and raised in Montreal, offers a unique point of view when it comes to blogging. A devout Montrealer, Quebequois and Canadian, Prax is and always be a die hard Habs fan, one who feels it necessary to offer his view on the Canadiens, the NHL, and hockey happenings in general. Expect many articles on the Canadiens, some from the point of view of a fan, some from the point of view of a blogger and some more distant, but expect them often, and expect them full of passion. Prax, who has somewhat of an infamous reputation around the online hockey community, also has interests in music, movies, television, as well as politics, and they are nearly as deeply rooted as his love for hockey. Prax is the senior content editor at The Checking Line, a website devoted to offering the best hockey discussion around the net, one that features bloggers from all over the league, and one that's constantly growing. Visit www.thecheckingline.com for more of Prax's work.

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