John Leclair

It is not often a hockey superstar comes from the mountains of Vermont, but that is exactly where the Montreal Canadiens found John LeClair. The future NHL power forward was born in St. Albans, attended prestigious Bellows Free Academy high school and studied at the University of Vermont.

LeClair would turn professional following graduation in 1991, and played three seasons with Montreal. He was nicknamed Mountain Man, partly because of his Vermont upbringing and partly because he was a mountain of a man. At 6'3" and 225lbs, his job was to park himself in front of the opposition's net and score goals.

LeClair showed glimpses of promise in Montreal, particularly during the team's 1993 Stanley Cup championship run. LeClair was a physical force through the playoffs, and then became a goal scoring hero in the finals. In games 3 and 4 LeClair scored back to back overtime game winning goals to help Montreal knock off Wayne Gretzky's Los Angles Kings.

Despite the promise shown, after three seasons Montreal grew impatient with their young phenom. The team needed an immediate scoring infusion and traded young LeClair and defenseman Eric Desjardins to Philadelphia in exchange for Mark Recchi.

Not unlike Cam Neely when he left Vancouver for Boston, John LeClair almost immediately transformed into one of the NHL's top players. Playing alongside Eric Lindros, LeClair finished the lock-out shortened season with 25 goals in 37 games. He followed that up with three consecutive 50+ goal seasons. He also had 43 and 40 goal seasons to round out the decade.

To add salt to the wound, is favorite goal scoring target seemed to be Montreal. It was a constant reminder of Montreal's impatience, as LeClair quite arguably became the best power forward in the game. He wasn't just a product of Eric Lindros either. LeClair was dominant in international play with Team USA, always proving to be a thorn in the side of the Lindros-led Team Canada. The best example of this had to be the 1996 World Cup of Hockey which went to the Americans. Also, while Lindros spent a lot of time on the injured reserve list, LeClair, who only missed 4 games in the 6 prime years of his career, continued to score goals.

Not surprisingly, LeClair became a favorite of Philly fans. Those faithful must have thought LeClair was a reincarnation of Tim Kerr, the 1980s sniper built in the same mould. Both players would park themselves in front of the net, tip incoming shots and fight for rebounds and loose pucks with great effectiveness.

Though that is how LeClair scored most of his goals, he had more tricks up his sleeve than Kerr. LeClair was a better skater, with enough speed and power to drive to the net with the puck. LeClair had enough speed to get him into battles on the wall and his status as perhaps the strongest man in the league would more often than not let him leave the corner with the puck. He was a punishing hitter and great digger. His one short coming was that he never had a lot of vision or creativity to set up plays once he gained control of the puck. His best play was to put the puck back to the point and then drive his body back to the front of the net.

Though he showed great durability during the 1990s, injuries were bound to catch up with such a physical player. A debilitating back injury cost him most of the 2000-01 season and a shoulder injury cost him the 2002-03 season. Neither injury, particularly the back injury, fully healed. LeClair changed his game some in order to absorb less punishment on his back, and became a 20 goal scorer for the rest of his career.

The NHL's new salary cap forced the Flyers to move John LeClair in 2005. He joined the Pittsburgh Penguins where his experience and leadership were a nice addition to a young team featuring a young Sidney Crosby.

John LeClair ended his career with 406 goals, 413 assists and 819 points in 967 games. For 6 seasons he was one of the top players in the league. It will be interesting to see if that is enough to get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


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