Oilers Trade Deadline Plans Could Change if Desharnais Succeeds

It’s been a long road to the NHL for Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Vincent Desharnais. He was passed over twice in the NHL Draft, and the Oilers finally took a shot on the 6-foot-6, 215-pound defender with the 183rd pick in the 2016 Draft. Since then, the Laval, Quebec native, has spent four seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) – with stints in the ECHL – but his dream came true when he made his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 11.

Desharnais played 12:58 in his first game and picked up his first NHL assist in his second game against the San Jose Sharks. Yet, in under 12 minutes of ice time, against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 14, all of the qualities that he’s known for — clearing the crease, boxing forwards out and using all of his 6-foot-6 frame to stop the cycle — were on full display against one of the best teams in the Pacific Division. It’s a very small sample size, but he resembled more of an NHL player, rather than someone who was in the AHL only three games ago.

Related: Oilers’ Desharnais Finally Getting Long Awaited Opportunity

On a related note, the biggest discussion surrounding the Oilers over the last couple of months has been the need to trade for another defenceman. They’ve won three games in a row, so the feeling that the sky is falling has eased, but at the same time, there’s still a split in Oil Country about the type of defenceman they should acquire by the trade deadline. Some hockey pundits feel they need a crease-clearing, and heavy defenceman, like Joel Edmundson, while others feel Edmonton should put a package together and go for a more all-around defenceman, like Jakob Chychrun, who isn’t a physical player.

It’s not known exactly what type of defenceman general manager Ken Holland is looking for via trade, we just know he’s patiently weighing his options. But if Desharnais can fill the role of the crease-clearing, cycle-busting player on the back end, that could drastically change the Oilers’ trade needs on the blue line by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

Desharnais Has the Potential to Fill an Oilers’ Need

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector wrote an article indicating a preference for the Oilers to pursue a defenceman who clears the crease, stays at home, and focuses solely on keeping the puck out of the net. Additionally, hockey analyst Rob Brown alluded to that as well in early January, saying, “Every team has someone on their back end that can stop the cycle, who can penalty kill and clear the front of the net, things like that, I think the Oilers need [that] on the back end.” Taking a look at Desharnais, who led the entire AHL in plus/minus at plus-36 last season, he has the tools to be the exact type of player the analysts are talking about.

I’ll mention again that it’s a very small sample size, but in a win over the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights on Jan. 14, Desharnais won board battles, boxed the opposition out, and in one sequence shoved forward Paul Cotter down to the ice just as the puck was centered in the slot, and eliminated a scoring chance before it had developed. What also stood out was Jay Woodcroft’s confidence in playing him with only a few minutes remaining. Late in the game, a Golden Knight had the puck loaded for a shot at the top of the circle, but the 6-foot-6 blueliner used his big wingspan to swat the puck away. Overall, on a night that had a playoff game type of feel to it, he showed a mean, physical, yet good defensive side that’s been missing from the Oilers’ back end so far this season.

Vincent Desharnais Bakersfield Condors
Vincent Desharnais, Bakersfield Condors (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, Brown, who previously mentioned the need for a physical defenceman, talked about Desharnais after the Golden Knights game, saying, “He showed a little bit of the meanness tonight, it was guys trying to get to the front of the net — that is a big man to try to go around.” He added, “He’s almost 6-foot-7, with that reach, a big strong man, you’re a forward trying to get to the net, you can’t go around him because to go around him you actually have to [go wide], and by the time you get around him, the play is already dead, or you go through him. Well, he’s a monster.”

Oilers Could Look at Other Trade Options if Desharnais Fills Role

Desharnais’ NHL experience is limited, and as the Edmonton Journal’s Kurt Levins points out, the Oilers need the dimension he brings with his imposing presence and wingspan, and ability to get sticks in lanes on the penalty kill, but also cautioned that there’s risk in putting that much weight and expectation onto rookies (From ‘An Already Hard Decision for the Edmonton Oilers G.M is Getting Much Harder: 9 Things,” Edmonton Journal, 1/15/23). All of this is very true.

On the other hand, what bodes well for him is his familiarity with head coach, Woodcroft. The defenceman played for him for parts of three seasons in the AHL, where they won a Pacific Division playoff championship together during the 2020–21 campaign. Desharnais also stated when he arrived in Edmonton that he was already familiar with the plays and drills at practice. In saying that, there’s a possibility that he can thrive immediately just like teammate Ryan McLeod did last February when Woodcroft took over behind the bench. The coach, who also had familiarity with McLeod from their days together in the AHL, immediately put him on the penalty-killing unit, and the Oilers forward has not looked out of place with that responsibility, since.

Overall, in the event that Desharnais can become that consistent tough-as-nails defenceman that can clear the crease, it could impact GM Holland’s decisions and also the narrative that the Oilers need to acquire a bruising blueliner before the trade deadline. If their current 6-foot-6 monster on the back end can keep up his play, perhaps that eliminates the need for a Luke Schenn, Mattias Ekholm, or Edmundson type of player that many hockey scribes feel the team needs. Instead, it might sway Holland to lean more toward a player like Chychrun, who has more offence and defends better with his stick, instead of his muscles.

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The trade deadline is less than two months away, and Holland has stated he’ll remain patient and evaluate his players, which might give Desharnais time to show he’s ready for the NHL on a full-time basis. On the other hand, there’s always the chance he does not pan out for the Oilers and gets sent back down to the AHL. Still, the fact that this seventh-round pick has already defied the odds and made his dreams come true by playing in the NHL, it’ll be icing on the cake if he turns out to be an impact player.

What have you thought of Vincent Desharnais play since his call-up? Have your say in the comments below!