BROSSARD – Tomas Plekanec boasts a stellar hockey resume, but playing his 600th career NHL game with the bleu-blanc-rouge on Saturday night against the Flyers at the Bell Centre is one accomplishment he’s particularly proud of.
A model of consistency over the course of his eight-plus seasons with the Canadiens, Plekanec has firmly established himself as one of the core members of the club’s leadership group both on and off the ice, while securing his place among the league's elite centermen. The veteran pivot, who spent the better part of his 20’s growing up in Montreal, knows full well that in today’s NHL, playing a significant number of games with the same franchise is something few players are fortunate enough to experience.
“It’s definitely a nice number. It’s not 1,000 or anything like that though,” mentioned Plekanec, who was selected 71st overall by the Canadiens in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. “Six hundred with one team these days, it’s definitely something that I’m happy about. I’m proud that I was able to get to the NHL and reach that kind of number. Being able to stay with the Canadiens is something I’m happy about for sure.”
Having recently begun his ninth NHL campaign, the 30-year-old believes that his extended stay in La Belle Province is a product of several factors, including a comprehensive support system and some good fortune. Both, according to Plekanec, have been instrumental in helping him reach his potential.
“I’ve been fortunate with my line mates and with my teammates. That’s probably the thing I’ve been most fortunate with. Over the last couple of years though, I’ve had too many of them,” joked Plekanec, who joined the Canadiens on a full-time basis during the 2005-06 campaign after a three-year stint with the Hamilton Bulldogs. “My parents deserve credit, too. They’ve been supporting me to get to this level. All those things, and being able to stay away from injuries, along with being able to just play my game and work hard.”
Those around the Kladno, Czech Republic native know exactly what he brings to the table, and are quick to point out the intangibles that make him an important part of what the Habs are trying to achieve in 2013-14.
“I think he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He’s been around for a long time and there’s a reason why he’s been successful and he’s put up good numbers at the same time,” praised Rene Bourque, who plays alongside Plekanec on a line with captain Brian Gionta. “He’s such a smart player. He just finds ways to get you the puck. He’s reliable in our own end and we’re looking to create more offense every year.”
Plekanec’s insatiable desire to compete and fine-tune his already impressive skill set has also rubbed off on some of the Canadiens’ young guns, including last season’s Calder Trophy runner-up and current NHL sophomore, Brendan Gallagher.
“I know as a young guy coming in, he was one of the guys that I looked to,” confirmed Gallagher, who has long-admired the way in which Plekanec conducts himself on a daily basis. “You watch him every day because he’s someone that’s going to bring the work ethic and bring that mentality to improve every day that you’re at the rink.”
The man charged with directing Plekanec and the rest of the Canadiens, however, might also be his biggest admirer. Head coach Michel Therrien saw first-hand what the six-time World Hockey Championship participant and one-time Olympian was capable of during the 2012-13 campaign.
“It’s Pleky’s consistency that really stands out to me the most,” noted Therrien, who will undoubtedly count on Plekanec to play a key role in Saturday night's tilt against a powerful Flyers squad that, like the Habs, goes in seach of their first victory of the season. “It’s a very important accomplishment for him to be able to play 600 games with the same team. He’s a player who has an important role at the heart of our team. He’s able to play against the opposing team’s best lines, he can quarterback a power play and he can kill penalties. He’s definitely a top-tier player.
“The thing I like the most about Pleky is that you always know what you’re going to get from him,” added Therrien. “He’s a player who is very intelligent on the ice. We’re very happy and we’re proud of him as well.”
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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