Phillip Danault is coming off a career year offensively and cracked the top 100 in league-wide scoring. Will he build on that in 2019-20 or take a bit of a step back?
Heading into the season, there were plenty of speculative line combinations. A trio that had Danault flanking Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher wasn’t one of the more popular ones but they were put together early and that trio was productive early on. However, Danault was mostly just doing the playmaking (and defensive play) as he had just two goals through the first 36 games of the year. For someone that was playing like a de facto number one centre, that wasn’t particularly ideal.
However, Danault did start to produce with more consistency over the second half. His goal total ticked up to come close to his career high while he only had three stretches where he went three or more games without a point. In particular, he was sharp when it mattered most, collecting seven points in the seven final games where the Habs were still in postseason contention. All told, he blew past his career highs in assists and points and produced like a legitimate top-six forward.
Despite the uptick in points, Danault rarely saw time on the power play as instead, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was used in that role. That decision made a lot of sense from a development perspective and it really cements how impressive Danault’s performance was considering most of his points came at five-on-five. On the other hand, his shorthanded usage continued to be quite high as he led all Montreal forwards in PK time per game.
Season Stats: 81 GP, 12 goals, 41 assists, 53 points, +17 rating, 39 PIMS, 0 PPG, 1 GWG, 132 shots, 17:47 ATOI, 56.7 CF%
4 Year Averages
This one could either be really obvious or really up in the air. On the one hand, it’s hard to envision the Habs wanting to break up what was a very effective Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line, one that was reliable at both ends of the rink. On the other hand, it stands to reason that they’re going to want to increase Kotkaniemi’s ice time and responsibilities. It’s hard to envision the Habs wanting to mess with much of anything when it comes to Max Domi, their leader in points last season so Kotkaniemi’s extra ice time could come at Danault’s expense. It’s quite possible that he drops onto more of a typical checking unit alongside players like Paul Byron, Artturi Lehkonen, and Joel Armia. Those players have some offensive skills but they’re not at Tatar and Gallagher’s levels. That could result in a notable dip in production.
From a special teams standpoint, not much should change. While Danault’s faceoff prowess could make him tempting when the team finds itself chasing the puck into its own end frequently off the draw with the man advantage, it would take an injury or a considerable reconfiguration of the power play for him to really get a notable opportunity. Meanwhile, he’ll almost assuredly lead the forwards in SH TOI once again which is great for the Habs but doesn’t do a whole lot for a fantasy pool.
There’s a temptation to think Danault could have another career year but I’m not going to project that he has one. I have a hunch that his role will diminish at some point during the season as Kotkaniemi is given more responsibilities. Actually, that may not be the fairest to say. His offensive role will probably decrease but his overall importance won’t. He’ll still be their go-to defensive player and he’ll still see plenty of time in late-game faceoff situations.
Danault has quietly played at a 40-point pace or more in three straight seasons and that’s a more likely barometer for where he’ll wind up, especially if he splits the season between playing with Gallagher and in more of a checking role. That’s going to make him still a pretty important piece of the puzzle.
Unfortunately, while he’ll be a key player for the Habs, his stat line doesn’t make him a great fantasy option in most leagues. He’s not a big stat stuffer aside from a bit of extra utility on faceoffs and that’s not a prominent stat for most pools. He could be a late-week flier in a head-to-head league for someone needing a boost in assists or plus/minus but otherwise, he should be a waiver wire piece in those pools. He’s a late-rounder in deeper standard points-based leagues as players capable of putting up 40 points shouldn’t be left alone but he isn’t someone that should be targeted aggressively.