Canadiens’ unexpected hidden gem: David Desharnais

Despite being a dominant player at every level of hockey since he was fifteen years old, David Desharnais has had to repeatedly prove himself because of his smallish 5’6″, 175 pound size. It takes a special athlete to overcome the ingrained size discrimination that exists in today’s NHL,  one who must combine quickness, intelligence, athleticism, skill, courage and, most importantly, determination.

After being drafted 20th overall on June 7th, 2003 by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the diminutive pivot manages to have a very successful junior career from 2003 to 2007. In 262 games with Chicoutimi, Desharnais scores 126 goals and adds 248 assists for 374 points (a 1.43 point per game rate); despite a successful junior career, the talented center goes undrafted at the 2005, 2006 and 2007 NHL Entry Drafts. He wins the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy as the QMJHL’s most sportsmanlike player three times consecutively from 2004-05 to 2006-07.

The following September, Desharnais receives an invitation to the Canadiens rookie training camp on a tryout basis on the recommendation of Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, who is a co-owner of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. After his tryout, the Laurier-Station, Quebec native signs a contract with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. That year, as a rookie Desharnais, leads the league in scoring with 106 points (29 A, 77 A) in only 68 games. Desharnais is only the fourth rookie in 20 years to lead the ECHL in scoring. That year, Desharnais also manages to play four games in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, notching one assist. The competitive rookie adds 33 points in 22 play-off games to lead the Cyclones to their first Kelly Cup championship.

David Desharnais Canadiens
(Icon SMI)

One year later, in September 2008, Desharnais is invited to the Canadiens rookie camp on an AHL-contract. Desharnais participates in four exhibition games, recording two assists, before being sent down to Hamilton. One month into the season, Desharnais signs a two-way contract with the Habs on his way to play his first full-AHL season, recording 24 goals and 34 assists for 58 points along with a good plus/minus ratio of +12 in 77 games. He is tied for third in AHL rookie scoring.

The following season, Desharnais explodes at the AHL level, scoring 27 goals and adding 51 helpers for 78 points along with a fantastic +30 rating in 60 games. Desharnais plays his first NHL game on November 25th, 2009 at Pittsburgh and records his first NHL point versus Washington on February 10, 2010.

In 2010-11, Desharnais starts the season in Hamilton once again, notching an impressive 10 goals and 35 assists for 45 points in only 35 games with the Bulldogs. DD instantly clicks with current line-mate Max Pacioretty before both players get called-up during the season. When the Canadiens decide they want to part ways with forward Maxim Lapierre on December 30, 2010, and trade him to the Anaheim Ducks, it opens a roster spot for the creative pivot. Desharnais is called-up the next day and finishes the season with the Canadiens, playing 43 games with the big club, scoring  8 goals and 14 assists for 22 points despite playing only 12:52 minutes per game on average.

As restricted free agent in July, Desharnais signs two-year, one way contract with Montreal valued at $750,000 dollars in year one – $950,000 in year two.

This season, the 25 year-old center started on the team’s third line behind veterans like Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez, thanks to an injury to center man Lars Eller, who missed all training camp. Desharnais took advantage of the injury and solidified the Habs middle lane. After overpaid veteran Scott Gomez went down with a lower-body injury, DD found himself on the team’s top-six playing with talented players such as Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn and Brian Gionta. After a few games, former head-coach Jacques Martin reunited Desharnais and Pacioretty on a line completed by recently signed power forward Erik Cole. The line immediately began to start producing offensively become the Canadiens’ most reliable forward line.

So far in 2011-12, Desharnais has amassed 5 goals and 15 assists for 20 points in 33 games and is now the team’s number one center, ahead of struggling center Tomas Plekanec.  Even when veteran Scott Gomez returns to the line-up, it will be hard for the Canadiens to cut DD’s ice time of 17:47 minutes/game as he’s on pace for almost 50 points over a full season, whereas Gomez hasn’t scored a goal in almost a year (47 games).

In short, David Desharnais, or double-D, is an undrafted master illusionist whose magic skills and courage have vaulted him from the minors to the Montreal Canadiens’ top-producing forward line in less than 12 months. He joined other small players who had tremendous success in the NHL such as Martin St-Louis and Steve Sullivan.


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