On the first day of Habs training camp, Guillaume Latendresse came out to meet the gathered media after his physical, and the first question he was asked went something like this:
"Well Guillaume, it seems like we ask you this question every year, but this is a pretty big training camp for you, isn't it?"
To which Latendresse replied, "Don't you have the tape from last year?"
It was nothing more than some light banter, but really, I felt the exchange spoke volumes about Latendresse's progression as a player.
Year after year, the Canadiens have been waiting for Latendresse to show the same level of aggression, the same physical dominance, the same goal-scoring aptitude that led the team to trade up in the second round of the 2005 draft to grab him.
This is Latendresse's fourth year in the NHL, and the same questions remain as to his potential, whether it is to be a top-end power forward or more of a third line grinder who can chip in some offence.
An injury to Max Pacioretty, who was clearly competing with Latendresse for a spot on the left side of Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, has opened the door wide open for the Golden Boy to make his mark, starting with tonight's pre-season game against the Bruins. If La Presse's Marc-Antoine Godin's sources are to be believed and Pacioretty is indeed two weeks away from a return, that would represent a release on the pressure valve for Latendresse.
The situation is very similar to what happened at this time last year, when Latendresse was given an opportunity to play with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay when Christopher Higgins was unable to start the season. Pacioretty was knocking on the door at last year's camp as well, but he hadn't played a single game as a pro yet and was ultimately sent to the minors.
Latendresse, however, did not seize the opportunity given to him last year and wound up back on a line with Maxim Lapierre, which eventually turned into an excellent energy unit when Tom Kostopoulos was added to the mix.
But still, the point needs to be made that Latendresse was given the chance to grab a coveted top-six spot, and he didn't.
That same opportunity is available to him this year to play with Gomez and Gionta, will he seize it?
And while we're on the subject of déjà vu, listening to Jacques Martin compare Latendresse yesterday to Tomas Holmstrom instantly reminded me of these comments from the Golden Boy last year:
“That’s going to be a key for me, if I get to play on the power play, is to be in front of the goalie, I watched (Tomas) Holmstrom last game and the last time we played against them in Detroit, and I worked with Marc Denis on it. He watched me yesterday and today when I was in front of the goalie and he tried to give me some tips. I think it’s paying off.”
“I want to be around the net. I think I can make a living being around that net.”
And there's more:
“In my first year I was more physical, but last year some things happened that might have changed my mind. This year, I want to get to being the player I was the first year I came here, play physical, go the net, stay in front and get those rebounds.”
I posted those comments on Oct. 1 last year, and while Latendresse had a nice season in my estimation, he definitely wasn't the player he's describing.
So let's see if Latendresse version 4.0 will finally become the Latendresse everyone has been waiting for, the one that plays exactly the way he described a year ago.
We should have our first indication of that tonight.
UPDATE (2:10 p.m.) It appears that Gionta will not be playing tonight as Andrei Kostitsyn will skate opposite Latendresse with Gomez. Doesn't change much for Latendresse, though, as this is still a first line audition.