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Lebeau Shows Small Stature Is No Roadblock : Hockey: Center, who helped Canadiens win Stanley Cup in 1993, is one of the Ducks' top scorers.

March 31, 1995|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every year at the NHL draft, you see them. Awkward young men, still boys really, scattered about the emptying stands in little clumps with their families as the final rounds wind down.

Other players have long since celebrated and gone home, but there are always a few who remain, dressed uncomfortably in jackets and ties, hoping against hope they will finally hear their names.

Stephan Lebeau was one of those whose name was never called.

"Twelve rounds," said Lebeau, a Mighty Duck center who sat through the entire 1986 draft at the Montreal Forum, not far from where he grew up. "People could have drafted me in the 12th round, but nobody took a chance. That was probably the biggest disappointment of my life.

"I had the numbers," he said. "I had put so much effort into it. I was there with myfather and my other friend. I was kind of prepared, but still. All your life you think about that moment."

The moment never came. Lebeau did have the numbers. Spectacular numbers. He scored 69 goals and 146 points and was a star for Shawinigan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. But other numbers kept him from being drafted: 5-10 and 160.

"I knew it was the reason, because I was small," Lebeau said. "But there was nothing I could do about it. You can work to get in shape or get stronger muscles. But your height? My father used to have us do stretching exercises and extensions, but there is nothing you can do.

"The year of my draft, I think I finished No. 7 in scoring in the league. No. 6, I think, was Jimmy Carson. He's maybe six points ahead of me, and he goes No. 2 overall and nobody picks me.

"I think it's even more difficult when your family is surrounding you. As an athlete, you face adversity, but your family isn't used to that and it adds more pressure. It's almost more disappointing for them than it is for you."

Lebeau's career has turned out pretty well anyway, and he has a tattoo of the Stanley Cup on his right hip to prove it. Lebeau was 25 when he won the Cup in 1993 as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, contributing a career-high 80 points.

At 27, he is one of the Ducks' most skilled players--probably second only to Paul Kariya--and their third-leading scorer despite missing nine games at the beginning of the season because of an ankle injury and coaching decisions to leave him out of the lineup. Once again, it was partly because of his size.

But once he started playing on a line with Shaun Van Allen and Todd Krygier, and later, Kariya, Lebeau's scoring touch appeared again. He has six goals and 11 assists, and scored all 17 points during a torrid 15-game stretch.

"You have to give the credit to Stephan for his perseverance," Duck Coach Ron Wilson said. "Stephan played in the Quebec League and was a small player, and a lot of other small players from that league never get drafted. He got through even though the odds were against him and he got a chance to play."

Actually, Lebeau, who added about 10 pounds of muscle after not being drafted, is almost the same size as Kariya, though Lebeau perhaps weighs a few more pounds. Kariya went fourth in the 1993 draft. But Kariya is a special case, and already had begun to prove himself against NHL players at the World Championships.

"Paul's small, but he's really fast. Faster than almost everybody," Lebeau said. "My skating ability is not based on speed. I don't have a powerful shot. I use a straight blade on my stick and it doesn't give me much power. I have to be very precise. I score almost all my goals around the net, just a few from beyond the top of the circle.

"Maybe today I would get drafted. But I was small and people at that time thought that as a small player I didn't have enough speed."

His skill is undeniable, though. When he and Kariya play around with the puck before practice, it's something to behold.

"Oh, yeah, Little Magic Man," said Pierre Gauthier, the Ducks' assistant general manager. "He's got very good hands."

Magic, in fact, became Lebeau's hobby about a year and a half ago, when he became fascinated with card and coin tricks after a private show and lesson from professional magician Carl Cloutier in Montreal.

"I don't consider myself as a magician," Lebeau said. "I am not good enough. But I'm learning every day. It's a lot of practice. That's why a year and a half later I am still in the learning process."

He needed to go through a learning process to get to the NHL, putting aside the pure offensive mind-set of the Quebec League to develop as a defensive player. He made that transition so well, in fact, that he has the best plus-minus rating on the Ducks, at plus six.

After being passed over in the draft, Lebeau almost went to Europe to play professionally. But before he did, the Canadiens invited him to a tryout camp and signed him as a free agent.

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