Think of your favorite hockey team. Okay, now imagine yourself playing for that club. Sounds like a dream, eh? Well for most it is, but for two 18-year-olds — Nick Leddy, who will attend Minnesota this fall, and Louis Leblanc, who’s heading to Harvard — that dream is a reality because the number 16 and 18 draft picks, respectively, now belong to their hometown NHL organizations.
Leddy, a 5’11, 179-pound defenseman from Eden Prairie, Minn., is now Minnesota Wild property, the first collegiate player snatched up in 2009. The pick was unexpected as he was ranked 24th, a ways down from his soon-to-be teammate Jordan Schroeder, who NHL Central Scouting considered the fifth-best North American skater but wasn’t picked until spot 22 by Vancouver.
So much for the phrase “in your wildest dreams.”
“You just never know on draft day,” Leddy said. “You really never know what can happen. But I’m just happy that they picked me and I can be one of the hometown guys. I’m really glad I went to the Wild. I go to a lot of their games and love the crowd. It’s unbelievable.”
But the sellout crowd at the Bell Centre erupted when Leblanc’s name was called, as he’s a local boy from Pointe-Claire, Que. The 6’0, 178-pound center was the Montreal Canadiens’ first choice and he couldn’t have imagined a better scenario.
“I had goosebumps, and I still don’t believe it,” Leblanc said. “There aren’t really any words to describe this feeling right now. It was my favorite team growing up, and I get to wear this jersey tonight, it’s unreal. I’ve been looking forward to this moment my whole life. I’m just living it right now.”
So the big show has arrived early for these guys, but they’ve committed to attending college in the fall, so what do they do now?
Leblanc was the United States Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year last season, leading the Omaha Lancers with 59 points, tied for eighth in the league with 28 goals. However, there is still room for improvement.
“I need to get bigger and stronger and I think a few years at Harvard won’t hurt,” said Leblanc. “Then when I’m ready I think I’m going to leave and try to make this [Montreal] team.”
Ted Donato, a 13-year NHL veteran entering his sixth season as Crimson head coach, will need his new recruit to help improve on last year’s 9-16-6 overall record. In his first two years on the job, Donato led his alma mater to 21-win seasons, but last year the talent from his club just wasn’t producing, so speaking to Leblanc about the possibility of leaving college early was definitely in the cards.
“Yeah, we talked about it a little bit,” Leblanc said in regards to staying only two years in a Crimson uniform. “I’m going to start off and see how it goes and then if I’m ready after a year or two I think I’m going to leave, and then I can always to go back to Harvard and finish my degree.
“It’s arguably one of the best universities around so I look forward to the challenge on and off the ice, and I’m going to make the best of it. If I last two years at Harvard, great. Then I could always go back in the summers or when I’m done playing hockey, I can finish my degree.”
Leddy, Minnesota high school’s Mr. Hockey, said he’d go if “the Wild thinks I’m ready to come in and make an impact.” But for now he’s already started classes with the other freshmen at Minnesota to lessen the load this coming season.
“I definitely wanted to go the college route ever since I was a little kid,” Leddy said. “You watch the Gophers on TV every Saturday night and it’s just the culture there.”
Despite the excitement of being chosen by their favorite teams, the pressure is always on.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of pressure on me,” Leddy said about belonging to two Minnesota teams. “But you know, you got to rise up and play your game and show them that you can play just like all the other players.”
And Leblanc is about to enter rival territory, coming to Boston as not only a homegrown Habs fan, but now being their property as well.
“For sure it’s going to be fun,” Leblanc said about coming to play and live in Boston. “Some guys in Boston are probably going to bug me about it, but you know I’m a Montreal guy now and I’m just enjoying it.”
As one of the most memorable days in these two teens’ lives comes to a close, there’s not much more they could possibly ask for. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.