Habs home in on Leblanc

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens have often opted for an American college player at the NHL draft, much to the chagrin of their legions of Quebecois fans who want to see them take one of their own.

Well, the Canadiens opted for another U.S. college player with the 18th overall pick last night at the Bell Centre and the fans almost brought the house down.

With cheers.

The Canadiens chose centre Louis Leblanc, a local kid from the suburb of Pointe-Claire, Que., who has committed to attend Harvard University in the fall.

The 18-year-old was the United States Hockey League's rookie of the year last season after leading Omaha in points with 59 and finishing eighth in the league in goals with 28.

"It's really impressive. I had goosebumps," said Leblanc of the reception he got from the Canadiens faithful, who chanted his name.

"I still don't believe it. There aren't words to describe this feeling right now. My favourite team growing up and to have a chance to wear this jersey (last night) is unreal. I've been looking forward to this moment my whole life."

"I think Louis fit perfectly in our wheelhouse," said Canadiens GM Bob Gainey.

"We're all really happy with him as a player. He's very competitive, a very determined scorer and has strong character."

Gainey said he didn't think the pressure of playing in his hometown would be too much for Leblanc to handle.

"When you have a player whose maternal language is French and he's going to Harvard, I don't think that will be a problem," said Gainey.

Leblanc will go to Harvard in the fall and will take his career year by year.

"I need to get bigger and stronger and I think a few years at Harvard will help," he said of his future.

"When I'm ready, I'm going to leave and try and make this team. I can always go back to Harvard and finish my degree. I'm looking forward to the challenge on and off the ice."

CHRIS.STEVENSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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