David Desharnais has surprised many by making it to the NHL. The undersized centre was never drafted, but was given a shot by the Montreal Canadiens. A Quebec native, Desharnais expressed that he was very proud to play for the Canadiens, and that he was very proud to make it to the NHL at all, as he doesn’t exactly fit the mould of an NHL player. Desharnais is only 5’7, but he has proven that he can be effective despite his stature. Though everything that Desharnais has done thus far is extremely impressive, many Habs fans feel that he is getting too much ice-time with the Canadiens, and that he is best suited for a bottom-six role.
The Canadiens have suffered injuries that have tested their depth in recent weeks. The Habs lost Brendan Gallagher to injury, and though he has since returned, the effectiveness of the power-play has dropped. Habs’ coach, Michel Therrien attempted to shake things up by putting David Desharnais on the point. Desharnais is known for being a good passer, but he is also known for being hesitant to shoot the puck. In addition, coach Therrien briefly put Desharnais back on the Habs’ first line with Max Pacioretty, as he reunited a duo that had been very successful in the past. This angered many Habs fans, who believe that Desharnais isn’t suited to be a top-line player in the NHL, and who believe that he definitely shouldn’t be getting power-play time. Since Gallagher’s return from injury, Desharnais has moved back to the Canadiens’ third line. Habs fans are also enraged, since Desharnais’ ice time seemed to be cutting into that of Alex Galchenyuk. Throughout December, when the Canadiens were struggling mightily to score, Galchenyuk was the Canadiens’ be the only consistent producer. Though this was the case, his ice time stayed limited, and Desharnais’ seemed to rise.
Therrien positions David Desharnais on the point of the power play,cautions it's not for him to just play the point, wants to have 4 fwds on
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) December 26, 2015
This season, the Canadiens decided to play their talented forward, Alex Galchenyuk, at centre. Playing Galchenyuk on the third or fourth line wouldn’t be appropriate, as he is a top-line offensive threat. This pushed David Desharnais down the depth chart to the Canadiens’ third line. For the majority of the beginning of the season, Desharnais played on a line with Dale Weise, and Tomas Fleischmann. The line had offensive skill, and had chemistry – which made them extremely successful until they were split up. This line was able to do well, particularly due to weak defensive matchups. While opposing teams put their best defensive lines out against Pacioretty’s line and against Galchenyuk’s line, the Desharnais line often had the easiest matchup. It seemed that Galchenyuk’s move to centre helped Desharnais find a spot where he can excel in the lineup.
Desharnais, along with Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, had very impressive starts to the season. They were the key to the bottom-six scoring depth that the Canadiens had before running into injury trouble. Though they had success, Desharnais has moved up and down the lineup, due to the injuries, and scoring issues that the Habs have been facing.
David Desharnais’ Rightful Role:
David Desharnais was being used appropriately before the Canadiens ran into trouble in December. Now, with Brendan Gallagher’s return, the hope is that the offence will balance out, and that everyone can return to their proper roles. David Desharnais is most effective as a third line centre. He thrives playing against opposing teams’ third defensive pairings, and he shows that he the has skill and craftiness that allows him to contribute as a depth player. The Canadiens had always been searching for scoring depth, but with Desharnais playing on the third line, their scoring depth increases greatly. If the Canadiens run into trouble scoring goals, the lack of top-six firepower is to blame, not the bottom-six.
Desharnais constantly showcases what helped him reach the NHL, as he never shies away from battling for the puck, and he is often found buzzing around the opposing team’s net. Though he is mainly a passer, his shot is accurate, and he is a good compliment to offensively gifted players. Desharnais belongs on the Canadiens’ third line, and is actually very effective if used properly.
There are stats out there that suggest that the more Desharnais plays, the worse the Canadiens’ record is. While some feel that his ice time should be more limited, he isn’t the reason for the Canadiens lack of success. With the recent struggles to score and injuries, Michel Therrien was forced to shake things up. Habs fans may not agree with his decision to ‘promote’ Desharnais, but in Therrien’s defence, Desharnais is the fifth highest scoring forward on the team. When the Canadiens are injury free, Desharnais can assume his role in the bottom-six, and can thrive as a complimentary scorer.
Though he may not be the big, physical bottom-six presence, David Desharnais can be a real asset when put in the right scenario. There are many fans out there who hate on the centre, but the fact is, as a third line centre, Desharnais offers an extra offensive punch on a team where the goal scoring seems hard to come by.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.