The kid makes the cut
Thanks to his three goals, five points and handful of thunderous hits in six preseason games, Guillaume Latendresse will make the jump to the NHL in 2006-07.
MONTREAL - Twelve months after first making a splash at last year's training camp, Guillaume Latendresse is staying put with the Canadiens this time around.
Sports talk radio callers and message board junkies everywhere can now rest easy with their wish coming true as Latendresse is here to stay. The announcement of his inking a three-year deal was great news for both Guillaume and his coach.
"We made it clear that everyone was going to get a fair chance to prove what they could do and Guillaume earned his spot," said head coach Guy Carbonneau. "The effort was there every game and he was consistent. There was a lot of pressure on him but he performed through it all."
Having heard the news from his father Alain following Thursday night's loss to the Senators in Ottawa, Latendresse still has trouble believing that he is going to play in the NHL this season.
"I definitely slept well and I expect to sleep even better tonight knowing that it's official," said Latendresse. "I had two dreams growing up. One was to play in the NHL, the other was to play for the Canadiens. Both coming true at the same time is just incredible."
The last 19-year-old Canadiens rookie to crack the lineup coming out of training camp was Mike Ribeiro, who now at age 26 is anxious to see how Latendresse will adapt to the NHL.
"He is definitely further along physically than I was at that age," said Ribeiro, who weighed all of 160 pounds back when he made his Habs debut in 1998-99, a far cry from the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Latendresse. "That could be the difference between heading back to junior and staying here with us all season long. He can't get discouraged if he doesn't score in his first couple of games. All of us here are going to make sure to encourage and support him."
Captain Saku Koivu is looking also forward to seeing the power-forward-in-waiting in action once the season begins.
"We're a team known for our speed and quickness and we don't have a lot of size up front," said Koivu. "It feels good to add his big body to our lineup. He's got great potential and he really makes things happen out there."
Koivu even offered a little free advice to the hulking winger.
"I would tell him not rush anything because it's a long season," added Koivu, who broke in himself as a 20-year-old to start the 1995-96 season. "This is a big step for him and expectations are high, but if he concentrates on being himself and playing his game, he'll be fine."
When asked how he was planning to celebrate his big news, Latendresse's response must have had his coach smiling.
"I probably won't do anything too exciting," shrugged Latendresse. "I do have a game tomorrow."
He certainly does. And thanks to another brilliant training camp, there are another 82 games awaiting Latendresse beginning on Oct. 6 in Buffalo.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com