Larrivée playing for a contract

By Chris Boucher
The June 1st deadline to sign CHL players drafted in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft is fast approaching. The Montréal Canadiens head into this year’s deadline with only two players directly affected by the previously mentioned cut-off date.

Josef Balej (3rd round, 78th overall), and Christian Larrivée (4th round, 114th overall) will need to be signed, otherwise the Habs risk losing their NHL rights. Balej is a speedy right winger playing with the WHL’s Portland Winter Hawks, while the lanky Larrivée currently toils for the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Saguenéens.

Chicoutimi drafted Larrivée third overall in the 1999 QMJHL draft. The Gaspé native had just come off an impressive rookie season with Jonquiere in the Québec Midget AAA league. In 42 games Larrivée managed 62 points (26-36-62) to go along with 10 minutes in penalties.

The 6’3″, 195-lbs forward enjoyed a moderately successful QMJHL rookie season (99-00), finishing with 23 points (8-15-23) through 69 games. That said, it was his size, and offensive potential that initially drew Habs’ scouts to the then center. He’s a left-handed shot who protects the puck well. He has a quick release, rather than an overtly powerful shot.

Claude Ruel, who’s still involved in the Habs’ player development system once told Larrivée that he uses his size and speed well, and must continue to shoot as often as possible. “Claude Ruel has a great eye for what happens on the ice,” Larrivée told Chicoutimi’s Le Quotidien. “I listen to him as often as possible. He knows the game so well. He’s there to help and council me. He’s pointed out quite a few things. He wants me to always be in motion, and keep my feet moving. I should never stop skating.”

The Sags’ number 23 enjoyed a strong first training camp with the Canadiens heading into the 2000-01 season. His reward was a 3-day stay at the team’s main camp before returning to Chicoutimi. Despite nearly tripling his offensive output in his second junior season (32-48-80), Larrivée’s second NHL training camp was less successful than his first. He played for the Habs’ entry in the prospects tournament in Hull, but was unspectacular through all four outings. His play earned him a one-way ticket to Chicoutimi immediately following the tournament, where he arrived in time for the Saguenéens’ season opener.

“The Canadiens’ management didn’t feel I played a strong tournament,” Larrivée commented. “Overall, I feel as though I worked consistently hard, but at the same time I realize I didn’t perform as well as last year.”

The 19-year-old hasn’t allowed the disappointment to affect his play this season. To date, he’s increased his point-per-game output by 0.238 points-per-game over last season; fifth best among Hab prospects. He’s enjoyed one scoring streak of 11 games, another streak of 20, and is currently in the midst of a 16 game run with at least one point. Through 69 games he has 93 points (45-48-93), and is -1 with 54 minutes in penalties. He’s been held without a point in only 11 games all year.

Larrivée has been particularly successful since moving from center to the left wing. Moving to the left side has allowed him to play on a line with 17-year-old phenom Pierre-Marc Bouchard. “Since switching to left wing Christian has moved himself even closer to the NHL,” Chicoutimi’s head coach Alain Rajotte told Le Quotidien. “He’s playing better and better. He’s been one of our most consistent players all season.”

A minus player his entire career, Larrivée finds himself hovering around the even mark with just 3 games remaining in the season. The numbers are a statistical manifestation of a conscious effort put forth by the Jonquiere product. “For the Canadiens management, scoring goals isn’t the only thing that counts,” continued Larrivée. ” If I can help stop the other team from scoring one, two or three goals in a game they’ll notice.”

For comparisons sake, Larrivée’s 1.35 PPG average this season is less than 2.14 PPG mark put up by fellow Hab prospect Marc-André Thinel last year, but better than Jerome Marois’ 1.22 PPG average. Christian’s future is in his own hands. A strong and lengthy playoff showing could go along way toward ensuring a contract offer.

Larrivée may benefit from being one of only two Hab prospects affected by the June 1st deadline. However, with players like Kim Staal, Victor Ujcik, Mike Komisarek, Matt Shasby and Chris Dyment also warranting some interest from the Habs, the NHL limit of 50 player contracts per team may become his biggest obstacle.

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