Louis Leblanc is a white-collar hockey player living in a blue-collar world, which suits him just fine.
All around him on the Canadian team at the world junior hockey championship are bruisers who create their scoring chances by knocking someone flat. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Leblanc, on the other hand, uses his quick feet and nifty hands to make his presence felt on Canada's top line with centre Brayden Schenn and fellow winger Jaden Schwartz.
"It opens up lanes for us," Leblanc said of the advantages for the relatively few skill players on the Canadian team, although he argues there is more than enough talent to go around.
"I think people can have their comments and their opinions, but in the dressing room, we know what we have," Leblanc said Monday after a Canadian practice in preparation for Tuesday's game against the Czech Republic. "We know there are a lot of skilled players. But we're a big team and we just want to roll over teams.
"We've got four balanced lines and whatever people say doesn't matter."
Having strong opinions and going his own way is nothing new for Leblanc. In the last three years, the peripatetic 19-year-old's hockey apprenticeship has taken him from his hometown of Kirkland, on Montreal's West Island, to Omaha to Harvard University and back home to play for the Montreal Juniors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Each move was done to further his development, and the Montreal Canadiens made him the 18th overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
Walking away from Harvard after one year was the most difficult decision. Leblanc was working toward a business degree, something his father, a chemist, and his mother, a piano teacher, feel strongly he needs to finish.
"They're well educated and obviously education is important in my family," Leblanc said. "But they support me in whatever I do and one day I'm going to go back. I still keep going with my education, I take a [business]class at McGill, so one day I want to get a degree from Harvard."
The hardest part of the decision was telling his lifelong best friend. Danny Biega grew up in the same neighbourhood as Leblanc in West Island, which seems to be a prime recruiting ground for Harvard. Biega and his two brothers, Michael and Alex, along with Leblanc, were key players for the 2009-10 Crimson team.
Last summer, though, Leblanc decided the best thing to do was sign a three-year contract with the Canadiens and go home to play major junior hockey. The 70-game season would put him on a faster track to the NHL.
"Harvard was hard to leave, it was a great place," Leblanc said. "I just called him up and said, 'Listen, Danny, I have to move on.' He accepted that I wanted to play junior hockey. He understood my position.
"We still keep in touch at least once a week. It was tough but it was the best for me. Life takes you different places and you've got to make the best of it."
One of those places was Omaha, where Leblanc played for the Lancers in the United States Hockey League in 2008-09. To be eligible for U.S. college hockey, Leblanc could not play major junior, but he rejected the idea of playing in a Tier 1 junior league close to home.
"I wanted to go to college and it was the best option for me," Leblanc said. "I think the USHL is the best Tier 1 hockey league in the world. They produce the most college players and Omaha is a great town.
"It was beneficial. I got drafted in the first round by the Canadiens."
That brought him home again, although, considering the media attention the Canadiens get in a hockey-mad city and province, it may not have been a great idea for a hometown first-round draft pick to come home and finish his development in the glare of the Montreal spotlight. True to form, Leblanc sees it differently and his 29 points in 24 games this season emphasize that.
"Yeah, for sure, there is a lot of pressure from the media and fans, but it's going to prepare me for upcoming years," he said. "It's going to be worse. There will be a lot more media and more coverage. I think it's a good preparation for me."