Chris LeBlanc called it “a dream come true.”
The former Winthrop High ice hockey star saw his name appear on the National Hockey League’s draft board Sunday and he then received a phone call from the Ottawa Senators informing him that the team had indeed selected him in the sixth round.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet but it’s a great honor,” LeBlanc said Monday.
Asked to assess the fact that only 210 players in the entire world of hockey are selected each year, he replied humbly, “It’s unbelievable. It hasn’t hit me yet but I know I’m a long way from there [the NHL] so I have to keep working and stay focused.”
LeBlanc left for Ottawa, Canada, via Logan Airport Tuesday for one week in the team’s developmental camp that will feature the team’s NHL draft picks, American Hockey League (AHL) players, and other elite prospects seeking to earn a spot with the Senators. He will have an opportunity to meet the Ottawa coaching staff and some of the players.
Even though LeBlanc could in fact turn professional and sign a contract with the Ottawa organization, the 19-year-old confirmed that he will stay with his planned course and play for Division 1 Merrimack College this season in Hockey East. LeBlanc accepted a full scholarship offer from Merrimack last fall.
LeBlanc no doubt caught the eye of NHL scouts with a strong season for the South Shore Kings of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He finished with 13 goals and 20 assists and excelled late in the campaign and in to the playoffs.
“As the season moved forward, I adapted well and started putting up points and it worked out well for me,” said LeBlanc.
Winthrop High hockey coach Dale Dunbar, who has been serving as an adviser to LeBlanc, said it’s a tremendous honor to be a National Hockey League draft pick.
“It’s great. It’s pretty cool for him and pretty cool to have a hometown kid that played hockey for you and developed under you to have the opportunity to realize his dream,” said Dunbar.
The Viking coach recalled that following his sophomore year in Winthrop, LeBlanc grew from 5 feet, 9 inches to 6 feet, 3 inches tall.
“Chris got taller and stronger but he lost no coordination – he’s absolutely the most talented kid that I’ve seen come out of this town,” said Dunbar. “He’s just an exceptional talent.”
Dunbar, who played professionally in the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins organizations, said LeBlanc’s skill set is “off the charts” and that, coupled with a season of steady development in the Eastern Junior Hockey League, likely put him on the radar of NHL teams.
“But still there are only seven rounds for the whole world and only 210 picks,” said Dunbar. “You have to be pretty good to get to that level and Chris did it. He put the work in. He’s a rink rat. He loves the game and he’s always down shooting pucks or playing on his rollerblades. As great as his skill set is, I think his passion for the game is the only thing that can exceed that.”
Dunbar said that LeBlanc had considered prep school before his senior year at Winthrop High. Some observers, including Dunbar, felt a player with his exceptional skills might get more exposure in prep school hockey.
“Chris came to me and said that he wanted to stay at Winthrop High and be the captain and lead the team,” recalled Dunbar. “He said he’d be first on the ice, last off the ice and he wouldn’t let the team down if he stayed. He did all that and more. He was Mr. Everything.”
Dunbar said that LeBlanc has opened the door for other public high school players to gain attention from NHL and Division 1 college hockey scouts.
“The Merrimack coach [Mark Dennehy] saw him score a tremendous goal against Wilmington in the state tournament and said, ‘Wow, that’s enough for me.’”
LeBlanc, who has trained locally at RPM Fitness under the superior tutelage of Marie Hamilton, will begin training for his college season upon his return from development camp. The Ottawa Senators will retain LeBlanc’s rights through his senior year, though he could decide to leave college early and turn professional.
LeBlanc said he’s grateful to Dunbar for his coaching and guidance.
“I can’t say enough about Coach Dunbar – I wouldn’t be at this stage,” said LeBlanc, a two-time All-Northeastern Conference selection and three-time All-Star. “He’s had a big impact on me in this whole process.”