Louis Leblanc’s performance in Tuesday night’s game against Florida reminded me of a statement Max Pacioretty made before he was called up from Hamilton in December of last season. Pacioretty raised some hackles in stating that he would be better off playing in the American Hockey League than coming up to fill a role on the Canadiens third or fourth line. Pacioretty believed it would be a waste of both his and the Canadiens’ time. He was right of course, and a month after he made the comments he was promoted and placed one of the Canadiens top lines where he’s been since.
Which brings us back to Leblanc. He has been a victim of everything Pacioretty railed against seventeen months ago. Plagued by major injury issues, the Canadiens were forced to bring him up well before his time. Until the Florida game, Leblanc has been wasting his time on the Canadiens third and fourth lines averaging around ten minutes ice time a game instead of gaining the confidence and experience that comes with having a dominating year in the minors. With the Canadiens, his job has been keeping opponents from scoring. Any offensive output was considered a bonus. Finally, against Florida Canadiens coaches gave Leblanc the opportunity to play the offensive hockey that made him a first round draft pick three years ago. Playing alongside Tomas Plekanec he had a pretty good night with a goal on three shots over seventeen minutes and 22 shifts. Although there are still issues of experience and strength at least in this game at least he wasn’t misemployed. While he may have learned a few things in his 37 games in terms of Leblanc’s development as a NHL scoring talent, this season has been pretty much a waste of time.
And that leads us to Aaron Palushaj, who has been faced with the same scenario. Had he played the entire season in Hamilton, Palushaj would have been on track for 30 goals and 80 points, the type of season that, with his speed and skill set, would inevitably have led to NHL promotion. But, instead of major minutes as a first line forward with the Bulldogs, he’s in Montreal for the sixth time this season averaging a talent-throttling seven and a half minutes a game on the fourth line. Surely, he can be better utilized than that. With five games left in the season and nothing for which to play, wouldn’t Palushaj’s speed be a better option than the moribund Rene Bourque on a line with Plekanec and, of course, Leblanc.
At this point it can’t hurt. They can’t be any worse than what we’ve been seeing out of the players who have played with Plekanec the last three months and they might just surprise us, the way Leblanc did Tuesday night.