Player Spotlight: David Desharnais
Montreal Canadiens' centerman David Desharnais has risen to fame with a breakout year, and has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise gloom season for the Canadiens' organization. Totalling 58 points at this point in the season, Desharnais has certainly proven all of his doubters wrong. However, the road has not been easy.
The Laurier-Station native comes from a small town of a little over two thousand people, but he has come a long way since then. Desharnais was drafted 20th overall in the 2003 QMJHL Entry Draft by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. While he was overshadowed by prolific players such as Sidney Crosby in his junior drat year, Desharnais went on to have great success in the Quebec league, putting up 51 points in his rookie season. While some questioned his size, it wasn't an issue at this level as he continued to increase his scoring output, putting up 97 points the next season, and 118 points following that, and even became Chicoutimi's captain. Not only was he known for his skill on the ice, but also for his conduct, as he was awarded the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy three consecutive times for being the QMJHL's most gentlemanly player.
Despite his dominant play, all thirty teams decided to pass up on him, and Desharnais would go undrafted. While he has without a doubt made twenty nine other teams regret that decision, the opinion was unanimous that he was simply too small to play in the NHL – a misconception that you would think would have died out long ago, given the recent success of hockey players on the “wrong side” of six feet. It was thought that in order to make it at the NHL level, a player of Desharnais' size would have to have game-breaking speed, an ability he did not possess. While many young players would be discouraged, it seemed to only make Desharnais' want it more.
His efforts did not go unnoticed, as the Montreal Canadiens invited him to training camp in 2007, finally giving him his chance to succeed at the professional level. Desharnais did not make the team, but impressed the organization enough to assign him to the East Coast Hockey League, where he would play for the Cincinnati Cyclones, and have an immediate impact. Desharnais put up an astounding 106 points in his first and only season in the ECHL, showing no problems making the jump from the QMJHL.
The next step was to prove himself in the American Hockey League, playing for the Canadiens' minor-league affiliate Hamilton Bulldogs. While he was hardly the most hyped prospect playing for the 2008-09 Bulldogs' team – one that featured such players as Max Pacioretty, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Yannick Weber, amongst others – he quickly became one of the most important. He registered 58 points, good for the second highest total on the team. This showing was impressive enough to earn him an NHL call-up in the following year. He may have only played six games, but he showed great development, and managed to record an assist during his time on the roster. However, it was back to Hamilton for the remainder of the season where he improved on his total from the previous season, putting up a total of 78 points.
At this point, his reputation was growing, and Canadiens' fans became excited at the possibility of having the next Martin St. Louis or Brian Gionta. Desharnais was quickly becoming a top prospect in the organization, and after performing at well over point-per-game pace early in the 2010-11 American Hockey League season, he was called up once again, this time for a much longer look than six games. Over the course of 43 NHL games, Desharnais tallied 22 points, showing that he could produce at the highest level of hockey. While his role wasn't a big one, he showed a great amount of skill in both ends of the ice, and even found himself killing penalties, a role not many would expect from a small play-making forward. While he performed over the expectations many had set for him, this was far from the best we would see of David Desharnais, as he would prove the next season.
Enter the 2011-12 season. One that most Montreal Canadiens fans would hope to forget, it has been one that Desharnais will surely always remember. As he started the season, it was unclear where his spot in the line-up was, be it on a scoring line, or in a shut-down role. As the line-juggling continued for many weeks, former Head Coach Jacques Martin found one that stuck. The line of Max Pacioretty, newcomer Erik Cole, and David Desharnais was one that found instant chemistry, and has been about the only line that has been together for the entirety of the season, and for good reason. The three members of this line are currently ranked one-through-three on the teams leading scorers list, a position they have held for a good chunk of the season. With two big power forwards on his side making room for picture perfect passes, it was a match made in heaven, and one that allowed David Desharnais to have the kind of break out season many players can only dream of.
It has definitely been a long journey for David Desharnais, but one that was certainly well worth the effort. Effort that has not gone unnoticed. His reputation around the league is growing, and his importance to the Canadiens' team is being recognized as well. The Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy was awarded to Josh Gorges this year for being the Canadiens' most dominant player without earning any particular honor, but it was David Desharnais who was the runner-up. Gorges was quoted as saying that Desharnais was just as deserving for the award, and it's hard to argue with that. Coming into the season, nobody knew what to expect from Desharnais. Many even groaned over adding another undersized player to the line-up. However, coming out of an otherwise disappointing year, David Desharnais has solidified himself as an essential part of the Montreal Canadiens' roster.