Leclaire: Saver, not 'saviour'

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Pascal Leclaire will arrive in Ottawa this afternoon with a grocery list-like history of injuries he first started compiling in 2005, his rookie year in the NHL.

Neck. Back. Knee. Hamstring. Hamstring again. Neck again. Head. Thumb. Ankle.

Hoping to greet him at the airport? Wondering what he looks like minus the mask?

Leclaire will be the 6-foot-2, 200-lb., 26-year-old, wearing the protective boot, who's gingerly stepping off the flight from Columbus.

"I had surgery about six weeks ago. I'm just doing rehab," the Senators' newest goalie said via conference call yesterday. "I got off the crutches last week and I'm starting to walk on my foot more.

"Never say never, but it looks like I'm not going to play this year again."

Leclaire, who was obtained along with a second-round pick for Antoine Vermette yesterday, was told by doctors he should be ready to don the gear by mid-to-late April, but by that time the Senators' only game will be golf.

At next fall's camp, however, he'll stand as No. 1 on the team's depth chart, carrying the remainder of a contract that will pay him $3.6 million in 2009-10 and $4.8 million in 2010-2111.

'PRETTY COOL'

"It's pretty cool to come and play in Canada. It's close to home, too, for me and my family," said the native of Repentigny, Que., about 30 km northeast of Montreal. "It's pretty exciting right now.

"For me right now, my first thing is to get back to 100% healthy. After that, I just want to come in and help. I don't come in as the saviour. Hockey is a 20-player thing."

Leclaire starred for the Halifax Mooseheads and the Montreal Rocket of the QMJHL. He was selected in the first round, eighth overall, by the Blue Jackets in the 2001 draft, then paid his dues with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.

Leclaire's breakthrough season in the NHL was 2007-08, when he had nine shutouts, a 2.25 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and a 24-17-6 record for Columbus.

The ankle injury that plagued him since the beginning of the year opened the door for Steve Mason, whose emergence as a star 'tender made Leclaire expendable.

"It's difficult and disappointing to have to give up Vermette. He's a good player," said Senators GM Bryan Murray. "The first thing we had to accomplish here was to try and get better in one particular area, the goaltending."

Murray, who is confident Leclaire will fully recover from his surgery, said that his entire scouting staff was in favour of making the deal. Getting Columbus GM Scott Howson to throw in a second-round pick could wind up making it a huge win for Ottawa.

"You guys have to be fair to him," Murray said when asked if he believes Leclaire can withstand the intense heat that will be on him as the No. 1 goalie in this hockey market. "Who puts the pressure on him? People care, people want to see us win. Pascal will come in here and there will be some pressure on him.

"But I talked to people that I know in the business and that have been around him. They all think that he is a No. 1 guy. We hope the mental part of the game goes along with it."

Leclaire, who played with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley at the world junior championship and the world championship, used to train in Ottawa under Barry Brennan, the Blue Jackets' strength and conditioning coach.

"I'm used to the city a little bit, I know a bit where I'm going," he said. "That's why it's exciting, too. I'm not going to a place in no man's land. I always liked the city."

The 2008-09 season has been a downer for Leclaire, who admits he was put off by both the ankle injury and the upsetting gun accident that involved Clint Malarchuk, the Columbus goalie coach who survived a self-inflicted shot.

He's hoping and expecting the trade will turn it into an eventual positive.

" I'm really looking forward to getting back to 100%," said Leclaire. "I know if I'm really healthy, I'll be all right. I'm just looking forward to playing at a high level again."


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