As it became increasingly clear that the Montreal Canadiens wouldn’t make the playoffs in 2016, the trade deadline represented a chance for management to get rid of veterans in favour of young players and picks. Habs general manager Marc Bergevin shipped pending unrestricted free agent forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for young centre Phillip Danault and a 2018 second round pick, a trade that already looks like a steal.
From Fourth Line To First Line
Since the trade, Weise and Fleischmann haven’t enjoyed the same individual success they had in Montreal. Fleischmann only had five points in 19 games with Chicago last season, as the team was eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Blues in the first round. He is still an unrestricted free agent. Weise especially struggled in Chicago with just one assist in 15 regular season games. He landed a four-year contract with the Philadelphia Flyers but has only four points in 31 games this season.
When he started in Montreal, Danault wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive. Defensively he was solid but showed little offensive acumen and looked like just another bottom forward pickup by Bergevin. However, this season has been a different story. Danault started the year as a fourth line winger but injuries have pushed him onto the top line with Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov.
Scratching The Surface
With 14 points in 33 games, Danault has taken a step forward. While he is only 23, he still likely won’t turn into a big scorer but his progression this season is encouraging. What stands out about Danault’s game is how solid he is at both ends of the ice. His positioning is excellent, he is strong on faceoffs and is the type of player that does all the little things right.
At the time of the trade, Bergevin, who was the Blackhawks’ assistant general manager when Chicago drafted Danault in the first round in 2011, referred to him as a core player for Montreal. It was a bit of a bold statement at the time considering Danault was just starting his NHL career and there was a logjam at centre in Montreal.
Danault shines in expanded role for Canadiens https://t.co/sUDn6yJwB2
— Montreal Gazette (@mtlgazette) December 20, 2016
Trading Lars Eller in June indicated that Danault would receive a bigger role with the Habs this season and perhaps a similar role to the one Eller had. So far, the decision to trade Eller and go forward with Danault was a smart move. Danault has been the superior player this season and looks comfortable playing a variety of roles whether it’s playing with the team’s best forwards or playing wing on the fourth line.
As players return from injuries, it would be wise to keep Danault at centre ahead of David Desharnais. Danault is better in every facet of the game and the team stands a better chance to win with him at centre. The trade to get him was a steal by Bergevin as Danault is the kind of player who helps teams win games.