It's been a long, long journey to where he is now for Pascal Laberge, the French-Canadian forward who was taken with the Flyers' first of three second-round picks in this past June's draft. The past few years have been trying for Laberge, who lost his stepmother to cancer while witnessing his father also struggle with cancer. Laberge put together a touching story about how difficult that experience was for him, and how hockey helped him get through it.
From the start, Laberge showed a ton of promise, so much so that in 2014 he was the second overall pick in the QMJHL draft in 2014. But a rough start to that first season in the Q -- a mere 10 points in the 27 games he played with the Gatineau Olympiques -- saw him get traded midway through said season to the Victoriaville Tigres.
Things have improved for him since then, to the point where the Flyers getting Laberge in the second round of the draft could arguably be seen as a steal.
No. 18: Pascal Laberge
Age: 18 (4/9/1998)
2015-16 League/Team/Statistics: Victoriaville (QMJHL) - 23 G, 45 A in 56 GP
Nationality: Canadian (Châteauguay, QC)
Acquired Via: 2016 NHL Draft -- Round 2, Pick 36 (Pick acquired via Winnipeg along with Pick No. 22 in 2016 for Pick Nos. 18 and 79 in 2016)
So what happened to Laberge in his first year? (Note that, from what we know, the 2014-15 season took place before any of Pascal's aforementioned family tragedy.) It sounds like he and the coaches in Gatineau never really meshed, as noted hardass Benoit Groulx may have ran him into the ground a bit too early, necessitating the trade to Victoriaville where things improved slightly.
Laberge, who was initially drafted as a center, really took off partway through his second season, when his coaches in Victoriaville met with him and decided to move him out to the wing. Habs Eyes On The Prize points out an interview with then-Tigres head coach Bruce Richardson, indicating that said meeting took place in December.
If that is the case, then the shift certainly appears to have worked out alright for Laberge.
|Timeframe||Games Played||Points||Points Per Game|
|9/11 to 11/27||25||23||0.92|
|12/10 to 3/19||31||45||1.45|
Richardson mentioned in that interview that part of the idea behind the move from center to right wing was the fact that he wanted Laberge "thinking way less in the defensive zone". And maybe that isn't ideal. If that's where he is in the QMJHL, odds are he's not going to be a great defensive forward if he reaches the NHL level. But you can look past that for a player with the offensive skill that Laberge has, and any move that allows him to unlock that skill is probably for the best. (Which is to say that we can probably expect Laberge to be a right wing prospect moving forward.)
Clearly, the Flyers like Laberge -- they've already given him an entry-level contract, making him the first player of their 2016 draft class so far to receive one. And beyond his exciting highlight videos (do check out the one below when you've got a few minutes), he's given fans who've watched him reason for excitement: our own Charlie O'Connor called him "the second-best forward at [Development Camp]" this past July, behind only Travis Konecny.
There's work to be done here. Richardson talked about wanting Laberge to play a power kind of game, and if that's something he wants to do at the NHL level, he'll need to add some weight to his 6'1", 175-pound frame. And after a dominant half-season in the later part of his draft year, observers will surely be looking for a dominant full-season from Laberge this year in the QMJHL, hoping he can string together strong performances with consistency.
But if nothing else, the Flyers look like they have a playmaking forward who's got the talent level of a legitimate NHL prospect on their hands.
How we voted for Pascal Laberge :
How we voted at No. 18 :
|Cole Bardreau||Pascal Laberge||Jordan Weal||Merrick Madsen||Carter Hart||Carter Hart||Radel Fazleev||Wade Allison||Petr Straka||Alex Lyon|
Previously in Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25, Summer 2016: