THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL — He is the latest new face among many to turn up in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room this season, and none was more surprised to be there on Saturday than defenceman Jay Leach.
The Canadiens grabbed Leach from New Jersey off re-entry waivers to bolster their injury-struck defence. So instead of playing for the Devils against the New York Islanders on Friday night, he found himself headed to Montreal.
"I’ve been on waivers a lot and never had a sniff, so I’m a bit surprised and excited by the opportunity," the 30-year-old said after his first skate with his new teammates. "I had the chance to play here last year and there’s nothing like it."
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin wants Leach to have at least one full practice before he plays a game, so he was not scheduled to be in the lineup for a game Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He should see his first action Tuesday night against the visiting Calgary Flames.
The six-foot-five 225-pound Leach is a stay-at-home defenceman who hasn’t produced many points at any level, but brings a big body and a physical style to the game. In eight pro seasons since playing at Providence College, the Syracuse, N.Y., native has played in only 28 NHL games, including 24 for the Devils last season. He has one NHL assist.
"I’m assuming I’ll play the same way I played in Jersey — stay at home, kill penalties if I can and try not to screw it up," he said with a laugh.
Because he came from re-entry waivers, the Devils will pay half of Leach’s US$487,500 NHL salary, for a $243,750 cap hit for each team.
Leach also brings hockey bloodlines.
Among his uncles, Mark Leach is a scout for the Detroit Red Wings, Steve scouts for the Flames while Jay is a former assistant coach of the Washington Capitals.
His father Chris Leach never made it as a pro, but played defence for St. Lawrence University in the early 1970s on a team that included long-time NHL coach Mike Keenan and his current coach with Montreal — Martin, who was a goaltender.
Injuries have claimed Montreal’s top defenceman Andrei Markov as well as rearguards Ryan O’Byrne and Hal Gill and forwards Matt D’Agostini and Georges Laraque.
When Markov severed a tendon in his foot in the regular-season opener in Toronto, Montreal signed free agent Marc-Andre Bergeron, who has struggled on defence but brings a big shot to the power play.
Prospect Shawn Belle got a look earlier in the season. This week they promoted Mathieu Carle from AHL Hamilton and he looked promising in his first two NHL games.
They also called up forwards Ryan White and Tom Pyatt from Hamilton and both impressed in a 2-1 shootout win in Boston on Thursday. The 21-year-old White picked up his first NHL assist on a first-period goal by Glen Metropolit.
"It wasn’t the nicest point I ever got, but it’s my favourite now," said White, a six-foot, 195-pound forward from Brandon, Man., who was drafted 66th overall by Montreal in 2006. "I just tried to play solid in my own zone.
"I made a nice pass and everything worked out well."
Martin liked what he saw from both.
"White’s a bigger man and he did a good job along the wall, finishing his checks and showed good poise with the puck," the coach said. "Pyatt has good speed, he’s a smart player who can be used penalty killing as well, so I see them helping our team."
For now at least, the newcomers have bumped young forwards Greg Stewart and Kyle Chipchura from the line-up.
Pyatt was thought to be the throw-in in a deal last summer that brought Scott Gomez from New York in exchange for Chris Higgins and a prospect, but the 22-year-old had a strong training camp that ended when he suffered a concussion in his fifth pre-season game.
He was back playing a week later for Hamilton.
"They told me not to change anything — play a simple game, chip pucks out and bring energy and speed," said Pyatt. "That’s what I did in Hamilton."
The five-foot-11, 185-pound centre from Thunder Bay, Ont., played the last two seasons for AHL Hartford, where he had 15 goals and 22 assists last season.
"I had a tough time my first couple of years but I definitely learned a lot," he said. "Last year was a big improvement for me. I had a good year and look where I am now."
Pyatt also comes from a hockey family. His older brother Taylor is a nine-year NHL veteran currently playing for the Phoenix Coyotes while his father Nelson played for Detroit, Washington and the Colorado Rockies in the 1970s.
"I call my parents after every game," he said. "It’s tough for them now, they’ve got two games to watch every night."