Penguins minor league notebook: Enforcer diversifies his game
WILKES-BARRE — Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond knows he doesn't work in a growth industry.
A heavyweight enforcer in professional hockey has brighter job prospects than, say, a typewriter salesman or video store clerk, but given the growing opposition to fighting in the game, who knows how long that will be the case?
For the time being Leblond is finding plenty of customers.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound left wing entered this weekend fourth in the AHL with 111 penalty minutes and tied for fifth with nine fighting majors.
“He's a real tough guy. He knows how to play the role,” coach John Hynes said. “When things need to be spiced up a little bit or taken care of, he does a real good job.”
A 28-year-old with 12 fighting majors in 40 career NHL games, Leblond has moved into the role Steve MacIntyre filled in the organization the last two seasons. They're not the same player, however.
MacIntyre is a practically unbeatable fighter, but his hockey skills lag. Leblond is an elite fighter, too, but he can play the game a bit.
Leblond has only one goal and one assist in 22 games, but he plays a regular shift on the third or fourth line and hasn't been a healthy scratch.
“I came in after the (2004-05) lockout. The rules had already changed — no hooking, the instigator. I was groomed with those rules,” Leblond said. “I learned being able to skate was important. To be able to go on the forecheck was important. I put in a lot of energy and time perfecting those skills. Hopefully it pays off.”
Rookie goalie Eric Hartzell had made six AHL starts coming into the weekend. Two of them were 1-0 victories.
“It's fun, early in the season, to get a feel for what those games are going to be like,” he said. “They're tight. You gotta be sharp.”
Through a flurry of recent call-ups, much has been made of the fact the Penguins and Baby Pens play basically the same systems, easing the transition for promoted players.
In the Penguins organization, that principle applies at the ECHL level, too. The Wheeling Nailers use many of the same Xs and Os as the top two teams in the chain, which is unusual in a league where independent ownership and split affiliations are the norm.
“(Nailers coach Clark Donatelli) really preaches the same systems that they're doing here,” said defenseman Dustin Stevenson, who was promoted to Wilkes-Barre this month.
Center Teddy Blueger, a second-round pick in 2012, spent his Christmas vacation from Minnesota-Mankato playing in a qualifying tournament in Poland aimed at getting his native Latvia into the top division of the World Junior Championship for 2015.
Latvia went 4-1, getting an assist from Blueger in three games, but finished in second place. Denmark went 5-0 to earn the promotion.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.