Latendresse Fit For A Rebound
Monday, 09.19.2011 / 2:44 PM CT / Minnesota Wild | Features
By Bryce Evans
Coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season, Wild forward Guillaume Latendresse knows that’s exactly what people will be doing during training camp: observing, watching and waiting to see if the 24-year-old is back to the form that led to 25 goals in 55 games after a trade brought him to Minnesota in 2009-10.
The affable Latendresse wouldn’t quite call it pressure, but whatever it is, he admits he’s aware of it.
“Saturday, I was more nervous than, I think, my first camp,” Latendresse said following the team’s public scrimmage Saturday. “ … The last two days, my alarm didn’t ring, because I woke up before it. I was pretty excited to get going and be with the boys.”
Latendresse wasn’t around the boys much last season, and players admint they don’t feel a part of the team when they’re dealing with prolonged absences. The power forward battled injuries all year long. A torn labrum in his hip, a bilateral sports hernia, another lower body injury later on—in all, he played just 11 games.
With that came sharp criticism—both inside and outside the organization—calling his work ethic and conditioning into question.
Noticeably lighter and extremely fit, Latendresse stood in front of his locker after Saturday’s session seemingly ready to put to rest any concerns over his fortitude.
“I know what kind of player I am,” he said. “If you look at my style, my career … I know I can score goals, I know I can play in that league. … I have great confidence. I know what I can bring to this team.”
As a veteran of more than 900 NHL games, Wild center Matt Cullen has seen a lot of talented players—and he sees a lot in his training camp linemate.
“You look at a guy like Gui, and he’s got so much size, and that talent and skill he brings with that size is pretty unique,” Cullen said. “He’s shown flashes in the past of really showing he can be an outstanding player. He can do that. He can get to that level.”
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Letendresse is a power forward in the truest sense. He hits, grinds in the corners, crashes the net and, most importantly, racks up goals. It’s what the Quebec native did in juniors, and it’s what he’s done thus far through his five NHL seasons.
While he showed loads of promise in his three-plus seasons in Montreal (he scored 16 goals as a 19-year-old rookie in 2006-07), Latendresse seemed to really hit his stride after being traded to the Wild. He scored 10 goals in his first 20 games, before finishing the season with a career-high 27 tallies. (Two of those goals were with the Canadiens.)
“I just had a chance, I had a break,” he said. “Somebody gives you a pat on the back and says, ‘Let’s go. Show what you can do.’ Sometimes that’s all you need.”
Latendresse refers to himself as a “mental player,” saying only 10 percent of his game has to do with his physical talents. The rest is between the ears.
“When my head is there, my body will follow,” he said.
And the Wild is counting on his head being there this season.
Letendresse—who’s penciled in to be on the team’s second line with Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard—will need to do his fair share of scoring if the Wild are to improve their goal production, which ranked second worst in the Western Conference a year ago at just 206.
“We need to make sure the second and third line are there to get some goals and to help those guys and to get some pressure off the top line,” Latendresse said. “We know (our top line) has the balance to (score a lot), but they need someone in the back to push them.”
Wise beyond his years
Despite his age and missing nearly all of last season, Latendresse is just two games short of 300 in his career. Although he admits he’s still learning everyday, the lessons he’s picked up are already paying off.
“You learn from your good things and you learn from your mistakes, that’s how you get more experience quicker,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I feel pretty good. I’m excited.
“It’s my eighth or seventh camp already, and I’ll have my 300th game. I think that’s a good number for my age. I need to make sure I bring that to the new guys and I keep looking at those older guys as that example.”
The beginning of training camp is always tough, Latendresse admitted. Getting back to playing at a high level takes time, and a lot of timing. He expects he and his teammates will have it all down in a couple of weeks.
But already over the first weekend, it was apparent Latendresse took some of last year’s criticism to heart, showing up to camp in great shape.
With Mike Yeo taking over as head coach, the team is expected to play in a more fast-paced and physical style. It’s something Latendresse said he’s excited about, and it’s also something he wanted to make sure he was ready for.
His offseason was filled with workouts and skating, but the major difference Latendresse made in his routine was his diet.
“What time you eat, what you eat: no pasta, no bread—all those simple things that make a difference,” he said. “ … It’s all those things we think we know sometimes, but we don’t know anything.”
In better shape than a year ago at this time, Latendresse is hoping for a season more like two years ago than what happened last year. Still, he’s not trying to look too far ahead.
“I just want to get back to moving the puck and get a feel for my hand-eye coordination—all those things first,” he said. “I won’t do a big, season-long goal. I’ll go five to 10 games, just trying to reach my goal every five to 10 games. Then do another.
“That’s what’s going to keep me honest, rather than having one all year long.”
Staying honest to that will be important. After all, everyone will be watching.