I’ve always believed a player’s development can only benefit from playing in a minor league system, whether it’s at the AHL, ECHL or even the IHL.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule especially if you have an unbelievably talented young players like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin who can step right into an NHL roster and make an instant impact. It’s a rare occurrence when this happens but there is a growing trend of allowing very gifted young players to develop in the NHL (and I emphasize “very gifted”).
With such strong prospects being drafted every year and teams realizing that they need to re-stock/build their roster through the draft, it’s easy to understand why these young players are staying with NHL teams.
You can also blame the salary cap structure as being one of the reasons for this growing phenomenon with teams finding ways to develop their younger and cheaper players at entry level contracts.
The Patrick Kanes and Sam Gagnes of the hockey world are a rarity to say the least. NHL teams are allowing these kids to learn on the job but it’s a balancing act between what’s right for the kid’s development and the team’s needs. There has to be a constant re-evaluation of the player’s game and development in the NHL……..here lies the problem for some teams, not properly evaluating the player’s game.
With this being said, I have to admit having serious doubts concerning the way the Canadiens have handled the Guillaumne Latendresse situation thus far in his young and promising hockey career.
From the onset, the Latendresse dossier was a difficult decision and gave Bob Gainey a lot to think about before the 2006-07 season. Let’s face it, Latendresse was this big, talented 19 year old junior player who scored 43 goals with his QMJHL team, something the Habs have been sorely lacking for years. Add in the fact that the Quebec hockey market haven’t had a Francophone superstar playing for their beloved Habitants since Guy Lafleur ‘s golden locks were flowing in the air on one of his patent end to end rushes.
To further add fuel to the debate of sending Latendresse back to junior after the 06-07 preseason was the fact that he led the team in points (I think he had 5 or 6 points). To further complicate the situation, Latendresse couldn’t be sent to Hamilton as he still had another year of commitment to his junior team, Drummondville Voltigeurs. Guy Carbonneau made it clear to the media that if Latendresse stayed with the team, he would play as it wouldn’t be good for his development.
As it turned out, Latendresse stayed with the Canadiens for the entire season and had 29 points (G-16 A-13) which wasn’t all that bad considering he was only 19 years old. There were times throughout the season when he struggled to find his game and was a brutal -20. He played 80 games that season and in hindsight should have been sat out more or been sent back to junior where he could found his game and dominated the QMJHL.
There will be those who believed he had nothing more to prove at the junior level but I beg to differ as he didn’t dominate the Q more than any other player in his age group. Latendresse finished 29th in Overall scoring in his best and last junior season (2005-06) with 83 points (G-43 A-40).
Let’s fast forward to the 2007 preseason/Canadiens training camp. The Canadiens were hoping Latendresse would further develop his game and become a more complete player at both ends of the ice. By all accounts, he had trained very hard in the off-season with Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, Scott Livingston and was in the best shape of his hockey career (Canadiens training camp prep).
He had an average preseason and a decent training camp but I truly believe his overall development as a hockey player would have been better served playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL. He would have played more than the 12:23 of ice time he has average this season with the Canadiens. Latendresse would have been utilized on the top two lines in Hamilton with tons of powerplay minutes, something he isn’t presenting doing in Montreal.
Unfortunately, Bob Gainey and the Canadiens thought otherwise and kept Lantendresse on the 2007-08 roster. The rest is almost history as we near the end of the season. Latendresse has 21 points (G-14 A-7) and is close to the 16 goals he scored last season but he has only one point in the last 13 games and is struggling to find his game. He is having a difficult time keeping pace with the quickness of the NHL and is a -8 which is an improvement from last season but still not good enough. To his credit, he did fight Nolan Pratt and brought a physical element to his game against the Sabres but games like these have been the exception to the rule for Guillaume.
While the Canadiens astonishingly successful season can be partly attributed to the unexpected, rapid development of their young players, the same can’t be said for Guillaume Latendresse. For one reason or another, the Canadiens are doing Latendresse more harm than good by keeping him at the NHL level.
If you look at the other young Canadiens players who are having great seasons, you completely understand how important playing at the AHL/ECHL level is in a player’s development. Players like Tomas Plekanec (3 AHL seasons), Andrei Kostitsyn (2 AHL seasons), Maxim Lapierre ( 2 AHL seasons), Christopher Higgins ( 1 1/2 AHL seasons), Mike Komisarek ( 1 1/2 AHL seasons), Ryan O’Byrne (2 AHL seasons), Sergei Kostitsyn (1/2 a season in AHL) and Jaroslav Halak (2 AHL seasons and 1 ECHL season) all benefited from playing in the minors so why is it any different for the 20 year old Mr. Latendresse?
Could it be the media pressure or hype that would occur if Latendresse was sent down to Hamilton? Would it make the Canadiens look bad after they used Guillaume as their poster boy in off-season team promotions on every newspaper ad or media billboard?
I find it very hard to believe that a strong willed, intelligent hockey man like Bob Gainey would allow the media or upper team management to dictate any player moves or what he does with his roster. Trading Cristobal Huet is a prime example of how Gainey doesn’t let the media guide his hockey decisions…..simply put, he does what he thinks is best for his team regardless whether it’s popular or not!!!
I certainly hope Bob Gainey and the Canadiens organization have the forward and honest vision to re-evaluate this promising, young hockey player’s development so he can completely fulfill his potential at the NHL one day.