Friday, November 4, 2011

Player Spotlight: Olivier Fortier

[Player Spotlight Archives]

Olivier Fortier is hardly a household name, even amongst Montreal Canadiens fans. This is, in part, no fault of his own, as Fortier has missed considerable time over his three year professional career due to injuries.

Montreal's third round pick in 2007, Fortier was never considered a prolific scorer, though he did top the 1 point-per-game mark in his final season with the Rimouski Oceanic, putting up 35 points in the 29 games he was limited to.

Unfortunately, he missed all but 1 regular season game in his rookie year with the Hamilton Bulldogs (2009-10), yet was still dressed for the team's 10 playoff games, a testament to his sturdy and reliable defensive play from the center position (he won the Guy Carbonneau Trophy as the QMJHL's top defensive forward in 2007-08).

His statistics may not seem overly impressive; 9 goals and 20 points over 68 AHL games last year, with further injury making him available for just 1 playoff game. But it says something about a player when, with those numbers, he continually earns scoring line and powerplay ice time. This isn't a case of Jacques Martin and Mathieu Darche either; he is never slotted into these roles, but rather works his way up. Fortier's shifts are earned strictly through hard work, faceoff skills, and a nose for the net.

Four AHL games ago, Habs fans were excited to see the debut of Louis Leblanc on the professional stage, returning from injury to join the Hamilton Bulldogs. And rightfully so. Leblanc dazzled with a goal, 2 assists, and first star honours in his debut. Much quieter also making his season debut that night was Fortier, held off the scoresheet. But perhaps you've missed what happened in the 3 following 'Dogs games, where Leblanc was held to just 1 assist total (not saying he played poorly), while Fortier potted a goal on each night (albeit all in losing causes) to give him 3 through 4 games.

Comparisons between Leblanc and Fortier won't end here as they will be battling for a similar job with the Canadiens in coming seasons. They are of similar size (both 6'0" and south of 200 lbs), versatile enough to line-up on wing or at center, and their bread and butter is two-way play. Hey, you can't even play the language card, with Fortier hailing from Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec. Of course, Leblanc's upside is much higher than Fortier's, and for Fortier to have any shot at an NHL future, he will need to stay healthy and prove the injury bug is behind him, but at 22 years old, he may be one of the least-talked about near-NHL ready prospects the Canadiens have.

Fortier will never be a top 6 forward in the NHL, but he could make a solid third or fourth line center. His limitation in Montreal may be his very average size on a team that wants to get bigger, but he has the potential to be a Samuel Pahlsson-type player with his defensive acumen, skating ability, and work ethic. Fortier will be a restricted free agent this summer, and with the Canadiens having a fresh group of young talent slated for Hamilton next season, he'll need to produce well and stay in the line-up to ensure he remains in the organization's long-term plans. Hopefully he does stick around, as losing a potential young NHL'er for nothing on a team with - at times - questionable bottom 6 depth seems like mismanagement.

You can catch Fortier, Leblanc, and their Bulldog teammates tonight as the team takes on the Houston Aeros at 7:30 PM EST. Listen to one of hockey broadcasting's great, Derek Wills, call the game on CHAM 820 radio here:

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