The Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to a two-year NHL contract today. Aside from his notably lengthy and hyphenated name, why would they do this? PL3 (as we’ll call him from here out) is a 28 year old fighter, who only has 40 career NHL games under his belt, and only 3 since the 2011-12 season. He has played on an AHL contract with Wilkes-Barre this season, where he plays on their 4th line and has no goals and 1 assist in 11 games. He doesn’t seem like a player with any sort of NHL future and the team only has 50 NHL contracts to give out.
The Citizen Voice’s Jonathan Bombulie offers a little more:
I think this is the way Pittsburgh would ideally like to handle organizational toughness going forward. Have a couple guys on the NHL roster who can handle most business (Engelland, Bortuzzo, Glass) and a true heavyweight on a two-way for salary flexibility. Leblond has been very good in the first 11 games for WBS. With C Zach Sill and RW Bobby Farnham, he gives the Penguins a fourth line that plays exactly how you’d like a fourth line to play. He’s also second in the league in fighting majors with six, two behind leader Zack Stortini of Norfolk.
..this is the bottom line: PL3 is in the elite tier of AHl heavyweights, he can play a hard, physical game and now he can be called up should Pittsburgh decide it needs that element. One caveat: Because he has upgraded from an AHL contract to an NHL contract, PL3 has to clear waivers before he can return to the WBS roster. You’d assume that’s a formality, but that’s basically how Tom Kostopoulos ended up in New Jersey last year, so you never know.
With the loss of Steve MacIntyre on waivers back to Edmonton back in September, Pittsburgh lost their resident enforcer and trump card, down in the minors, to be able to call up in case a major physical altercation might breakout. That PL3 is in the elite stage of heavyweights in a league that houses more fighters than in the NHL shows you why the Penguins wanted to keep him this year and next, and give him that NHL deal to make him eligible to play in Pittsburgh, if needed.
Which, say what you want about fighting quickly becoming outdated (it is) or the pure enforcer dying off like a dinosaur (they are). There's no denying the sport of hockey is moving away from that. At the same time, remember that the Penguins did have to call Steve MacIntyre up to the NHL and play him in each of the last two seasons- in 2013 for the follow-up game against Ottawa after the Matt Cooke / Erik Karlsson incident, and also the year before in 2012 when the Pens/Flyers line-brawls that spring were popping off.
The Penguins had use for a deterrent in each of the last two seasons, and over the course of an 82 game season, very well might again. MacIntyre- with his scary presence as probably the #1 toughest guy in the sport right now- was able to settle the game to the point where he didn’t even have to fight. Mostly because no one was going to challenge that incredibly scary, scary human being.
That said, a Steve Mac or PL3 type player is not going to prevent a major hit or line-brawl from happening. If an opponent makes a cheap shot, or gets out of control, your enforcer is going to be in the minors or in the press box. The only thing they’re good for is for the “rematch” game the next time the two teams meet. Then and only then can he be a factor, and with the instigator rule plus the culture where only a dwindling handful of players are even going to fight a pure heavyweight, it’s debatable just how necessary their presence even is.
Still, when you have Sidney Crosby signed for 12 years and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang locked up for the next 8, it’s nice to have an insurance policy down in the minors. A pure heavyweight might be called on to play one NHL game a year (if even that much) but it’s better to have one and not need it, than find a situation where there’s a need but not one in the back pocket. For that reason, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond earned a two year NHL contract, even though he probably (and hopefully) will never play a meaningful game in the NHL.