Which version of David Desharnais will arrive for the upcoming 2016-17 season? The one who started last season strong or the one that had a minimal impact in the season half?
Desharnais bounced around as the centre between the top 3 lines at different parts of the season. Early on, he had some success in the #3 spot alongside Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, where they developed some chemistry. While on that line Desharnais managed to produce reasonable offence while the team was off to their hot start. In October he scored nine points in 12 games, then in November he scored eight points in 13 games.
Unfortunately as the team faltered, Desharnais did the same. That happened around the same time Desharnais was paired back with his old linemate Max Pacioretty. The coaching staff gambled their past offensive success would reoccur, but instead it failed badly for Desharnais, who managed only two points in 14 games during December, and five points in 11 games during January.
When David is paired with Max, the opposition tends to counter with their better defensive forwards and defencemen which limited his offensive production. When he’s been in the #3 line, the opposition he plays against is not the same high calibre, and his production is typically more. Desharnais was injured in mid February with a lower body injury which caused him to miss 17 games. That injury allowed Alex Galchenyuk’s ice time to increase, where he blossomed when paired with Pacioretty.
The one issue where Desharnais really faltered this past season was on the power play. As a favourite of coach Michel Therrien, Desharnais usually started every power play opportunity, which would give him more than the lion’s share at the man advantage. Given that his skills are as a passer and playmaker, this strategy seemed reasonable on the surface. However, his power play production plummeted last season, where he managed a mere three goals and two assists. In the previous three seasons (excluding the lockout season of 12-13) David was much more productive on the power play, scoring 11, 15 and 30 points.
Season Stats: 82 GP, 14 goals, 34 assists, 48 points, +22 rating, 24 PIMS, 2 PPG, 0 SHG, 4 GWG, 90 shots, 17:14 TOI
(Because of the lockout-shortened season, we are prorating all of 2012-13’s numbers over a typical 82-game year.)
With the emergence of Galchenyuk on the first line, Desharnais should be a permanent part of the third line, given the fact that Tomas Plekanec is the second line centre and usually misses very few games due to injuries. Predicting his ice time may be tricky since coach Therrien may fall into his old habit of giving David prime power play time again. With Galchenyuk out producing him on the power play with 16 points in much less ice time, logic dictates Desharnais should not see as much time with the man advantage. Last season Therrien disregarded that logic, which is why it’s difficult to say how he will be utilized in 2016-17.
David is entering the last year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent. This typically means NHL players will bump up their effort in order to help secure a much more lucrative contract for their future. At this moment, it’s not likely that Desharnais will be a player the Canadiens will try to re-sign for a few reasons. His importance as a third line centre who is not physical and not very adept defensively limits his usefulness. Montreal will also need to protect a limited number of players (likely seven forwards) for the upcoming expansion draft next June which will produce the new Las Vegas franchise for the 2017-18 season. Leaving a pending free agent like Desharnais exposed is a likely move for the Habs.
My expectations are low for Desharnais as a fantasy player for the 2016-17 season. He has been surpassed in the depth chart by Galchenyuk and Plekanec, and should receive less ice time in all situations. If a player like Philip Danault emerges as a better option as the team’s third line centre, then Desharnais is very likely to be playing his last season in Montreal.