Oilers’ Desharnais Emerging as Menace for Opposing Players

Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Vincent Desharnais defied the odds as a seventh-round draft pick, and made his lifelong dream come true when he played his first NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 11. Since then, with his imposing 6-foot-6 and 215-pound frame, he’s emerged as a dependable physical force on the team’s third pairing.

Prior to Desharnais’ arrival, there were many experts in the hockey world that thought the Oilers required more toughness from the back end and felt a player like Joel Edmundson from the Montreal Canadiens would be an ideal match for the Blue and Orange. Yet, credit to general manager (GM) Ken Holland for staying patient and waiting to see how well his behemoth 6-foot-6 defender performed, before making any deals for that type of player. In saying that, Desharnais has not only become the physical defenceman the Oilers needed, but he’s starting to bring an “in-your-face” style of play to the opposition’s star players.

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After enduring the opposition taking liberties on star players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for years, it’s high time that the Oilers have a player like Desharnais that can give it back to the other team, and more importantly physically target their star players. As a result, he’s slowly gaining a reputation as a menacing force.

Desharnais Has Been Aggressive With High-Profile Players

Over the last month and a half, Desharnais has started to be on the opposing team’s radar as he’s been involved in physical altercations with some high-profile players around the NHL. On Feb. 27, the Boston Bruins visited Rogers Place and the visitors were leading 3-2 with a few minutes remaining in the third period. The Oilers were down a man after Klim Kostin took a double minor for high sticking and when Desharnais was tasked to kill the penalty, he went into a board battle with David Pastrnak and gave the Bruins’ forward a vicious slash to the back. Pastrnak was visibly in pain after the chop, and the Oilers’ defenceman received two minutes for slashing. Perhaps not the best penalty to take in that situation, but his name was lingering in conversations thereafter.

Fast forward to March 11, the Oilers were down by two goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period and Desharnais and John Tavares were jockeying for position in front of Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner. Edmonton’s towering blueliner continued his mean streak on the Leafs’ captain, gave cross-checks and additional aggressive stick work, letting him know he wasn’t going to have an easy time in front of the Oilers’ net. Tavares retaliated and gave Desharnais a nasty slash to the hand and the defenceman grimaced in discomfort. Both players received penalties and the next day, Tavares was fined $5000, and it was reported that he texted Desharnais in good nature and apologized for the incident.

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Seven days later the Oilers visited Climate Pledge Arena to face the Seattle Kraken, Desharnais once again goaded one of the opposition’s top players into taking a retaliatory penalty against him. In the third period he gave the Kraken’s leading scorer, Jared McCann a melee of stick work to his legs and body in front of the Oilers’ net, and the Kraken forward retaliated and slashed the blueliner back. As a result, both players went to the penalty box with coincidental slashing penalties.

Desharnais Is Smartly Causing the Opposition to Retaliate

In two incidents over the last month, Desharnais has taken the opposition’s top players off for two minutes and as he averages 12 minutes a game on the third pairing, that’s an excellent trade-off. So, not only is he using his physicality, but he’s also demonstrating his smarts by making life miserable for the competition and getting into their star player’s heads, and causing them to retaliate. On top of that, the broadcasts have shown that he’s chirping with them as well in the penalty box, deepening the mind battle and potentially throwing them off their game even further. If he continues this trend moving forward, this will prove to be quite valuable in the playoffs.

Vincent Desharnais Edmonton Oilers
Vincent Desharnais, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

At the same time, if the opposing team decides to send their tough guy after him, the Laval, Quebec native doesn’t appear to be afraid to engage in a physical altercation. He has a plethora of fights in the minor league, and his sole tussle at the NHL level was against the Canadiens’ Arber Xhekaj on Feb. 12, who has emerged as one of the league’s premier fighters. Not many punches were thrown, but Desharnais earned the takedown and unfortunately, the Canadiens’ defenceman suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the fight.

Since Desharnais debuted in January, he’s been given more responsibility, with a more prominent role on the penalty kill and an uptick in ice time. That said, head coach Jay Woodcroft knows precisely what he’s getting out of him in his 12 minutes a night — simple plays with the puck, a lot of physicality, and letting the opposition know that it’s not going to be an easy night in the Oilers’ end anymore. He did not suit up in the game against the San Jose Sharks on March 20, but when he’s in the lineup, he’s filling a role with his menacing style, and agitating the opposition’s best, which will prove to be even more useful come playoff time.

What are your thoughts on Vincent Desharnais’ nasty style of play as of late? Have your say in the comments below.

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