Edmonton Oilers’ towering defenceman Vincent Desharnais faced numerous obstacles on his journey to becoming a professional hockey player and made his dream come true when he made his NHL debut last January at the age of 26.
He recently was a guest on “The Sick Podcast with Tony Marinaro” and talked about his journey to the NHL and also the things he needs to do to stay in the best league in the world. Moreover, he also told a candid incident of him blocking shots, and Connor McDavid, showing his appreciation of him, saying, “Hey Vin, keep doing that brother, I love that.”
With his captain acknowledging his hard work, I also feel Desharnais will be a key player in the Oilers’ pursuit of a Stanley Cup this season. With that in mind, I’ve outlined three predictions for the hulking defenceman for the 2023-24 campaign.
Desharnais Will Lead the Oilers in Fights
The Oilers didn’t have enough cap space to re-sign former fan favourite Klim Kostin, and as a result, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in the offseason. Many feel he’ll be a big loss because he was a physical presence that could chip in on the scoresheet from time to time, but also because he led the team in regular season fights (four) last season.
Fighting is on the decline in the NHL, but it’s still a crucial part of the game. That said, as much of a loss Kostin might be this season, the Oilers are still a tough team with willing combatants that can step up to the plate when the situation calls for it. However, without a designated pugilist on the team, I predict that Desharnais will adopt more of that role this season and lead the team in fights.
The Oilers have two players, Darnell Nurse and Evander Kane, who almost seem like they find joy in fighting, but they’re two important players on the team, and in reality, the team is weaker when they’re in the penalty box sitting for five minutes.
On that note, the 6-foot-6 Desharnais — who understands his role as a bottom-pairing defender — will likely drop the gloves more often to come to the aid of his teammates. He also has a plethora of fights under his belt in the minor leagues, and he was credited with one fight at the NHL level last season against the Montreal Canadiens. The Oilers were down 3-0 and Kane went into a scrum to stir things up, and Desharnais smartly took the fight against tough guy Arber Xhekaj, who suffered a season-ending injury in the tussle.
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Desharnais understands he’ll be in a battle to earn ice time over blueliner Philip Broberg, and I can see him stepping in to fight for more prominent players on the team when things get heated.
Desharnais Will Play More Than Broberg
The Oilers’ five defencemen of Darnell Nurse, Mattias Ekholm, Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard and Brett Kulak, are likely the guaranteed five to be in the lineup on the back end to start the season, so that leaves a spot on the third pairing up for grabs between Broberg and Desharnais.
Many feel that Broberg will be showcased for a trade deadline move for a steady veteran on the blue line. Still, in the event that no trades are made, the prediction is that Desharnais plays more games than Broberg, with the Laval, PC native playing roughly around 48 games, compared to 32 for the young Swede.
Why? Desharnais brings an element that’s lacking on the back end and the team in general, and that’s nastiness and physicality. For many years in the McDavid era and prior, the Oilers were criticized for being too soft in their zone, and the towering 6-foot-6 and 215-pound Desharnais is an imposing force.
Last season I wrote that he was turning into a menace on the back end, after some physical altercations and stick jousting with high-profile players like John Tavares, David Pastrnak and Jared McCann, and in two of the incidents he took both players (Tavares and McCann) to the penalty box with him as they retaliated. If Desharnais can continue that feistiness and bait the opposing team’s star players into taking penalties this season, it’s a safe bet he’ll log more minutes than Broberg.
Desharnais Will Be Much More Composed in the Playoffs
Desharnais’ path to the NHL is marked by a distinct story of resilience, from many years riding the bus in the ECHL, to suffering a concussion and battling depression. However, he stated on “The Sick Podcast with Tony Marinaro” that he puts extra effort into keeping his mind clear.
He alluded that he writes down his thoughts in a journal and talked about the emotions after a bad Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings last playoffs:
“I was so bad, I left the ice so.. in my [own] head, anxious, I can’t believe I almost cost the game, cost the series, and then I just stop, all that — the voice inside that tells you you’re so bad, this or that, just the journal.. I’ve learned to use my tools and not get stuck in the cycle of ‘you’re bad’ and you’re this.. I’m here for a reason, I know I’m here, I just have to execute, I just have to believe in myself.”– Vincent Desharnais
In saying that, Desharnais recognized his errors from the last playoffs, as there were times he looked a step behind and made notable rookie mistakes, but none more apparent than the Game 4 he was alluding to against the Kings in the opening round. He was the culprit on three goals against in the first period and the mistakes trickled into the series against the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round as well.
The prediction is that the 27-year-old plays more calmly and poised in the playoffs and because of his resilience and knack for exceeding expectations throughout his career, I feel he’ll resemble more of a veteran NHLer than a player in his sophomore year.
Desharnais also noted that he writes daily affirmations in his journal, and his teammates are hopeful that his next goal will come to fruition, as stated he puts pen to paper in his journal every single day, “I am an NHL player, and I will win the Stanley Cup.”
What are your thoughts on the predictions for Desharnais? Have your say in the comments below!