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Aging LeClair finding role

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

When Bryan Trottier arrived in Pittsburgh for the start of the 1990-91 season, he was no longer the dominant offensive force that helped the New York Islanders claim the Stanley Cup on four occasions in the 1980s.

Trottier was a decorated veteran looking for a hockey home. He found one with an up-and-coming club capable of future greatness -- albeit one that could stand to learn a lot from a player who had seen nearly everything in the National Hockey League.

Ring a bell?

In the Penguins, Trottier had joined a club that featured a handful of young, top-shelf offensive dynamos who were more than capable of carrying the goal-scoring load.

Those Penguins did not need Trottier to score, so he adjusted his game and willingly took a backseat to the next generation of NHL stars.

Sound familiar?

In three seasons with the Penguins, Trottier tallied 24 goals.

John LeClair scored almost that many -- 22 -- during his first year in Pittsburgh.

Though he has not scored a goal this season, LeClair has played an inspired brand of hockey over the past three games -- all wins for the upstart Penguins.

In other ways, the 37-year-old forward has contributed a fair share to the club's recent victorious ways.

"I don't think anybody expects me to score 50 goals this year. I don't," said LeClair, who totaled at least 50 over three consecutive seasons from 1995-96 through 1997-98. "I just want to contribute as much as I can -- if that is in other areas besides offense, then that is fine."

In the Penguins' overtime win on Long Island last week, LeClair seemingly found his skating legs.

With that powerful stride, LeClair has since teamed with Dominic Moore on a third line that carried the offensive play recently thanks to diligent work low along the boards and behind the cage.

"I'm playing fine. I've created some chances," LeClair said. "I don't feel as bad as it looks ... I'm feeling a lot better now than at any point last season.

"I need to start cashing in, though I certainly don't feel like I am hurting the team."

No less an authority than Sidney Crosby attested that LeClair has been pulling his weight.

"He's been great since I got here," said Crosby, who shared a line with LeClair during the early stages of his rookie season. "And you can tell that he is now finding himself on the ice."

According to Crosby, despite speculation to the contrary, LeClair has proven himself a positive off-ice influence for the Penguins.

"He's just a guy that makes you feel welcome," Crosby said. "He always shows interest in helping you. Just things like starting a simple conversation helps, really. He does that all the time."

The impact created by young forwards such as Crosby and rookies Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal has resulted in LeClair's taking on a different role than the one that called for him to carry a hefty portion of the offensive load during his salad days with the Philadelphia Flyers.

"Obviously, we improved the team and there are reasons for where I'm playing and the ice time I get," LeClair said. "Some of it is understood. Some of it is not that I can't do it as well, but that everybody else does it better than me. The guys are faster and stronger, and it's a better quality of hockey than when I came in."

Coincidentally, LeClair entered the league with Montreal the same season that Trottier helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup for the first time.

He wouldn't mind if his days in Pittsburgh drew a parallel to those experienced by Trottier.

"I'm playing because I still like the game and being around these guys. I still have fun coming to the rink every day," LeClair said. "And I'm still here for a purpose -- to win another Stanley Cup."




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