It's time for the predictable Habs draft assumption.
This annual ritual closely follows the conclusion of the Stanley Cup final (one, by the way, that I correctly predicted on April 15. Just saying.). It involves a number of draft "experts" from around the hockey world taking for granted that the Montreal Canadiens will draft a promising Quebec native in the first round of the NHL entry draft.
An integral part of this annual ritual is the availability of just such a player, as every ranking out there always seems to have some Quebecois ranked right around the spot the Habs are picking. Naturally, the Canadiens will take him with that pick, no?
Well, ever since Réjean Houle passed over Simon Gagné to pick his linemate Éric Chouinard with the 16th overall pick in 1998, the Canadiens have not chosen a homegrown talent with their first round pick.
But that doesn't stop people, year after year, from making the assumption that the Habs braintrust will put some sort of priority on a Quebec product, largely because a good portion of their fanbase wants it to be so.
But those same fans also want their team to win first and foremost, and Bob Gainey could draft nothing but Latvians for years and no one would bat an eye if it brought the city a Stanley Cup.
This year, the conveniently-ranked prospect is Kirkland native Louis Leblanc of the Omaha Lancers from the United States Hockey League, a highly-touted two-way centre/winger headed to Harvard on a full scholarship next year. He was named the USHL rookie of the year with 59 points in 60 games this year and has been invited to the Canadian junior team's summer evaluation camp.
I've seen a few mock drafts sending Leblanc to the Habs at No. 18, the most recent being Shane Malloy, whom TSN dubs a "Prospect Insider."
I wrote a piece for The Gazette about Leblanc back in 2006, when he was a rookie in the Midget AAA Hockey League at Lac St-Louis, and I saw him play a couple of other times over the next two years. He dominated midget hockey, but of course that doesn't say a whole lot about how someone will project in the NHL (I also saw Guillaume Latendresse and Mathieu Carle do the same, which should give you an idea of how midget dominance means very little).
On the ice, Leblanc was the complete package back in the day, but what I remember most about him was just how insightful he was, even as a 15-year-old meeting with a reporter in a Kirkland Tim Horton's.
Anyhow, I won't pretend to know whether or not the Habs should grab Leblanc in that slot, but I will venture a guess that they won't, simply because everyone expects it and as we've all learned, this team is rarely predictable. But of all the apparent chosen ones over the past few years, Leblanc is the one that best meets the criteria of a Habs draft pick because he is heading to college in the U.S., which would give the Canadiens some extra time to judge his talent before deciding to offer him a contract and starting the free agency clock.
But this is also an extremely deep draft, and while Leblanc appears to be a very good prospect he doesn't meet the Habs glaring need for size at forward, more specifically centre. Trevor Timmins and his staff may just find someone else who fits the bill a little better, and if they pass on Leblanc they will surely be widely criticized for it.
Because slamming the Habs for ignoring Quebec talent is another annual ritual around these parts, and summer simply wouldn't be the same without it.