The Jacques Beauchamp Award is presented to the Canadiens’ most unsung hero, but in the case of 2016-17 recipient Phillip Danault, it may as well have been named the Rodney Dangerfield trophy. Can Danault build upon the progress he made in his first full NHL season and finally earn a bit more respect from the fans and media?
The fact that Danault suited up for all 82 games in 2016-17 is significant not only because he was the only member of the Montreal Canadiens to do so, but more so because it was the first full season in the 24-year-old forward’s young career. This, coupled with the fact that he worked his way from the bottom to the top of the forward depth chart, make his 40-point output much more significant than it may appear at first glance.
The dead horse that continues to be mercilessly beaten is the fact that the Canadiens lack top-line centres. Tomas Plekanec’s game faltered mightily in 2016-17 and Alex Galchenyuk could not earn the trust of Michel Therrien nor Claude Julien. This conundrum quietly gave way to the emergence of Danault, the former first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, who slid admirably into the slot between Montreal’s top wingers, Captain Max Pacioretty and the recently departed Alexander Radulov.
It was while playing between the team’s top two veteran wingers that Danault’s game began to emerge – and while his 40 points are not the stuff of Cup-winning first line centres, they do represent a decent result for a player who entered his first full season as a fringe forward.
Largely viewed as a defensive specialist, Danault is admittedly a less-than-adequate choice for the role of #1 centre, but this shouldn’t unfairly diminish the production he was able to contribute in his first full season.
Season Stats: 82 GP, 13 goals, 27 assists, 40 points, +5 rating, 35 PIM, 0 PPG, 3 GWG, 133 shots, 15:35 ATOI
Playoff Stats: 6 GP, 0 goals, 2 assists, +1 rating, 2 PIM, 0 PPG, 0 GWG, 10 shots, 16:39 ATOI
**This is where we would normally provide multi-year stat averages, but with Danault having only played two NHL seasons and the disparity of games so great between those campaigns, it doesn’t make for an accurate depiction.
There are few players on the Canadiens’ roster whose 2017-18 role is more in question than that of Phillip Danault. Where he ends up in the depth chart will largely depend on the decisions made with respect to the team’s more prominent, high-profile forwards.
Despite what Marc Bergevin will tell you, many Hab fans believe Galchenyuk will assume his ‘rightful’ place as the #1 centre, which would push Danault down to the second line centre spot. There is also the possibility of a Plekanec resurgence, which would then relegate Danault to one of the bottom two trios.
Another wild card for Danault is the ever-looming possibility of Bergevin adding another warm body to his group of centres – be it a Stephane Da Costa, or less likely, a blockbuster trade acquisition like Matt Duchene or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
It’s really a crapshoot to try to predict where Danault will line up over the course of the season, but the most likely scenario in this writer’s opinion is that he will be shuffled between centring the second and third lines, perhaps with some light power play duty sprinkled in.
The good news is, thanks to the Canadiens’ surfeit of wingers, Danault is sure to be flanked by some good scoring talent. He may not see much time between the likes of Drouin and Pacioretty, but that still leaves Artturi Lehkonen, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Charles Hudon, Ales Hemsky, Andrew Shaw and possibly Galchenyuk – should he remain on the wing. In short, the potential will certainly be there for Danault to build upon his totals of a year ago.
While it’s true that Phillip Danault does not possess the pedigree of a scorer, he is the type of player NHL coaches love – and that translates into ice time. Danault is not only a dedicated and responsible player, but he is also a passionate hard worker who is constantly striving to improve his game. Considering how well he fared in his first full season as an NHL player, there is a very real chance Danault will continue his upward trajectory, which could see him crack the 50-point plateau. If that becomes the case, suddenly the unsung hero may find himself earning a bit of the respect that seemed to elude him in 2016-17. From a fantasy perspective, he might be worth a gamble in the late rounds of deep pools.