Drew LeBlanc makes NHL debut with Blackhawks
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com April 24, 2013 11:20PM
St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc (19) moves the puck against Miami (Ohio) during the third period of their regional final in the NCAA college hockey tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/The Blade, Andy Morrison) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES; TV OUT; SENTINEL-TRIBUNE OUT; MONROE EVENING NEWS OUT; TOLEDO FREE PRESS OUT ORG XMIT: OHTOL202
Updated: April 25, 2013 12:20AM
EDMONTON, Alberta — Drew LeBlanc spent the past five years mixing his hockey with college classes, so he’s no dummy. When he learned Wednesday morning that not only would he be making his NHL debut with the Blackhawks that night, but that he’d be skating between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, he knew exactly what to do.
“Get them the puck and get out of their way,” LeBlanc said after the morning skate at Rexall Place. “That’s my strategy.”
LeBlanc, the 23-year-old center out of St. Cloud State, was signed to a one-year contract by the Hawks on the same night he won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top collegiate player. Because he was signed after the trade deadline, he’s not eligible to play in the postseason. When he was signed, he said he didn’t expect to play at all, but Dave Bolland’s groin injury opened the door for Joel Quenneville to give LeBlanc a shot.
LeBlanc struggled early, and was caught out of position on the lone Oilers goal. But he acquitted himself well after that, and three good scoring chances in the third period. He got the championship belt the players hand out after each game.
“Yeah, I don’t really know what that means,” LeBlanc said. “[Duncan Keith] just gave it to me. It’s a cool accomplishment. Hopefully I’m in the lineup next time so I can pass it off to somebody else.”
Because he’s ineligible for the Stanley Cup playoffs, LeBlanc will at most get three chances to show what he can do before becoming a restricted free agent on July 1. He said he’s trying not to think of it that way.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure at all,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in here on a team like this, a special moment. I’m going to have fun and work hard and see where it gets me.”
It was a bit of a rough start, particularly in the first period. But Quenneville said LeBlanc got better with each shift, and LeBlanc agreed.
“As the game went on, you have to adjust to the pace a little bit,” he said. “The first period, guys were kind of flying around out there, and you need to adjust. Once you start making the easy pass and getting the puck up the rink, it gets easier.”
He was kicking himself a little bit for the missed scoring chances in the third, but he was hardly complaining after one of the most memorable nights of his life.
“All I can ask for is to have a couple chances,” he said. “Hopefully I can find one. It was a good experience for my first game, and I hope I get to do it again soon.