Feisty prospect L'Heureux aims to emulate Tkachuk, Marchand
Zachary L'Heureux plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-11, 196-pound frame might suggest.
"I'm a strong power forward," the 18-year-old left winger said. "I'm a guy that plays a lot in the offensive zone and is good around the net. I'm extremely competitive, and that's what drives me to always win 50-50 battles and be first on the puck. And it's not always going to be a dump in and working low in the zone. I'm a guy who can go through a defenceman and make a play, so that dual threat is something other teams need to watch out for."
L'Heureux piled up 19 goals and 20 assists in 33 games with the Halifax Mooseheads this season. He also racked up 47 penalty minutes. So, it's no surprise that L'Heureux lists a couple of the National Hockey League's top agitators, Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk and Boston's Brad Marchand, as his role models.
"Players who have a lot of skill and a lot of grit and are always involved in the plays, and they stick up for themselves," L'Heureux noted. "They stick up for their teammates."
When you play that style it's sometimes tough to keep your emotions in check. L'Heureux was suspended four times during the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season.
"I play on the edge," he explained. "When the wires touch sometimes you kind of cross the line. One thing about growing up and learning how to become a professional, you're going to push your limits. I know I'm not done making mistakes and I'll probably make a lot more, but I learn from every single one of them."
There were certainly mitigating factors during this strange pandemic season as the Mooseheads faced off exclusively against the five other teams in the Maritimes Division.
"We were playing teams [many] times, so emotions build up and it's one of those things that I have to learn from," he said. "From every suspension I got, I came back stronger and better."
During a conversation with TSN from his family home just outside Montreal, L'Heureux explained how he handles the discipline question when he chats with NHL teams. He also shared how growing up a Canadiens fan fuelled his love of the game.
The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
How do you handle the questions about discipline when you speak with NHL teams?
"It's pretty easy, if you just look at my stats, to think this guy is maybe a hothead, but once I'm able to talk to teams and explain every situation and what happened and how I see it, they're able to notice that maybe there's a bit more meaning to it than the on-paper stuff. They like my feistiness, my edge that I play with. It's something that, of course, they like about my game. I know that I need to learn to control that a bit better. They know that too. So, they just want to know my perspective on it. Whoever picks me will help me work with it and work through it."
You received a game misconduct for spitting on Nov. 6 against Charlottetown. What happened?
"It was the end of the period and I got hit from behind and thought it was pretty dirty. Nobody kind of reacted to it, so, being the player I am, I jumped up and, wouldn't say I attacked the guy, but gave him an earful and we ended up having a little tilt. I ended up getting punched in the face a couple times. I definitely got rocked a bit, so had a mouthful of blood. I was on my way to go to the dressing room and I kind of spit toward the other bench. I didn't hit anybody. I don't think I was within two or three metres of them, so there were no COVID issues there, but it's something that I definitely have to learn from. I'm happy that at least I didn't hit anybody, and nobody was harmed. It's something I regret a bit more now, looking back on it, but it's part of the play and little things like that happen."
Where does your feistiness come from?
"It's just a genetic thing to be honest. My whole family is kind of like that – whether it's cards or board games or [other activities], there's usually kicking and screaming and fighting and everybody wants to win. Since I was a kid at the playground or school I wanted to win, so it's something that's stuck with me and it's given me a lot of success so far, so I don't want to change."
You scored 10 goals and added 13 assists in your final 14 games of the season. Why did you finish so strong?
"I didn't necessarily have the best start, so I knew coming into the second half if I wanted to have a strong push for the NHL draft, I had to be better. I focused on keeping it simple and playing my style and I did a good job in that area and the points came, but I was more than a points player. I was playing a lot better in general and being more involved."
Why do you wear No. 66?
"It has nothing to do with [Mario] Lemieux or anything like that. That was before my time. It's more about my mom. She played high school basketball and she was No. 6, so I've always wanted 66 or a number with a six in it. It's a connection we have and it’s showing respect to my family and something that means a lot to me. Of course, now, getting to the higher levels you get the Mario Lemieux chirps and what not, but that has nothing to do with it."
What was it like growing up in the Montreal area?
"You're born a Montreal Canadiens fan and being able to see their playoff push this year and the way the city and country came around them, it's something special. Growing up, I got the opportunity to go to the Bell Centre a couple times and it's definitely something special. It’s something magical. You're thinking that one day I could play in that barn for the team or against them, so it's something where you're stars truck and it's special. You are born into the hockey world around here."
Did you have a favourite fan moment growing up?
"I remember getting back from school and my mom or dad telling me they somehow scored tickets. You didn't really care where you were sitting, it was just the opportunity to stay up past your bedtime on a weekday. Going to an experience like that, just the feeling, the ability to touch the roof and seeing all the fans, it's something that you can't really explain how it feels ... I definitely have a few memories like that."
TSN director of scouting Craig Button has you going to the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 13 in his latest mock draft, so you may be off the board before the Canadiens pick. That said, have you thought about what it would be like to be selected by your hometown team?
"The draft is going to be full of surprises. If I am [picked by Montreal] I'll be extremely happy, but I'd be happy literally anywhere. So, it's not something I have my mind too much on but, at the same time, it's definitely a thought. Who knows? When draft day anything could happen."
What did it mean to you to score the overtime winner during the gold-medal game at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer?
"It's something that flashed by so quickly. You watch it on video, and you remember it more then, but that was probably one of my most special moments in hockey. I mean, being able to represent my province and going to those Games, it was the first time I could compare myself on a national level and see my strengths and weaknesses compared to guys that I hadn't even heard of before. We had a great group and great coaches, and the environment was unreal ... That overtime game against Ontario with the team they had with Brandt Clarke, Brennan Othmann and Shane Wright just to name a few, you know, they had a really good team and for us to win that was definitely a special moment."
What do you remember about the goal?
"I remember it off by heart now from watching it so many times, but I can't tell you I remember exactly what it was like being in that moment. Watching it over on video, it's one of those plays that, you know, is part of my game. I got the puck and brought it to the net and picked up my rebound and good things happen. It's a special moment and it still gives my chills when I watch."
The translation of your last name from French to English is 'The Happy One,' is that an apt description of you off the ice?
"Heureux means happy, so it's definitely been a nickname that, the last couple years playing in English markets, has stuck around and describes me well. I'm a guy that likes to have a smile on his face and who jokes around. I like it as a nickname and now that people are catching on it's definitely fun. It’s something that, being in Quebec and growing up here, people don’t [bring it] up much, but the last couple years in Moncton and Halifax it's something people noticed."