Victoriaville Tigres center and Blackhawks prospect Phillip Danault was named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) first star of the week after amassing eight points in just two games.
First, against a strong Moncton Wildcats team, Danault tallied one goal and three assists en route to leading the Tigres to a 7-3 victory. Also on display that game was another Chicago prospect, goaltender Brandon Whitney, who was named the game’s second star (Danault was the first) after making 34 saves on 37 shots.
One night later, facing the P.E.I. Rocket, Danault factored into all four Victoriaville goals as he added four assists to give him a total of seven helpers for the weekend.
Playing in a league known far more for producing offensive talent than defensive, Danault ranks 16th overall in league scoring with 44 points in just 29 games. Some of the players currently ahead of the 6’0 tall center include likely future NHL stars Nathan MacKinnon, Mikhail Grigorenko, Jonathan Drouin, and Jonathan Huberdeau.
The impressive season that Danault has put together earned him an invite to Team Canada’s World Junior Championship tryout, where he’s expected to make the team as a center on one of the lower lines. In the first scrimmage at Team Canada tryouts playing on a line with the Barrie Colts’ Anthony Camara and the Plymouth Whalers’ Tom Wilson, Danault scored one of his team’s three goals to help lead them to victory.
Guy Flaming and Dean Millard, co-hosts of TEAM 1260 Edmonton’s “The Pipeline Show”, both have the Victoriaville native slotted to make the team along with another Blackhawks prospect, Prince Albert forward Mark McNeill.
After a rookie season that saw the left-handed shooting center score 28 points in 61 games, Danault exploded for 67 points in 64 contests in his sophomore campaign. The following year Danault kept pace, scoring 18 goals and assisting on 53 others for 71 points total in 62 games, a pace he should exceed by a wide margin this season.
While Danault has been lighting it up offensively at the Major Junior level, his defensive play is what may eventually earn him a spot on the Blackhawks roster.
Another center currently on the Chicago depth chart, Dave Bolland, also dominated during his time in the CHL, scoring 130 points in just 59 games in his final season. Since he joined the big league club, Bolland has become one of the best defensive centers in this league, often matching up against the opposition’s top lines.
However, with the emergence of Danault, some have asserted that Bolland may become trade bait, as the two have similar styles and Danault projects to a comparable role in the NHL.
It wouldn’t be the first time Bolland’s name has popped up in trade rumors. Earlier in the offseason rumors surfaced that his name was being floated as the centerpiece in a deal that would bring Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo to the Windy City.
If Danault’s offensive abilities translate professionally the team may be able to hold on to both, as they’ve been desperate for years to find a capable second line center. To do so, he’ll have to be stronger with the puck, as some reports have indicated that he is easily handled by bigger defenders, even at the Junior level.
Many of the positive traits attributed to Danault center around his tenacious work ethic and non-stop motor. In his draft year he tied Philadelphia Flyer Sean Courturier for the league lead in shorthanded points, demonstrating his ability to excel on special teams as well.
It’s likely that the former 26th overall pick will spend a season or two in the AHL, as Bolland did before he joined the ‘Hawks full time. Those two years could very well define the type of role Danault will have with the organization.