TORONTO, ON — Twenty-nine year old, 5-foot-7-inch centre David Desharnais has faced a ton of adversity throughout his entire career. From my observations, every time he has been knocked down he got right back up, stronger then before. Being a smaller stature player in hockey isn’t easy, it is perhaps harder to make it past the junior ranks when below a certain size.
There are people who believe that size is everything in hockey. Teams sometimes make the huge mistake of shying away from a certain player because of their stature. This was exactly the case for David Desharnais until the Montreal Canadiens came calling for him in 2007 with a training camp invitation and assignment to the ECHL. His play earned him a training camp invitation and a contract in 2008 from his home province team.
David Desharnais was a prolific goal scorer and point producer in his junior days with the Chicoutimi Saguenees of the QMJHL. In 262 total regular season games for the Saguenees, Desharnais produced 126 goals and 248 assists for a total of 374 points with a per-game average of 1.43 points. As for the playoffs, Desharnais played 48 games, scoring 12 goals and 31 assists for a respectable 43 points (per-game average of 0.90 points.) Desharnais’ junior career was highlighted by the six awards he won over three years and being named the captain of the Chicoutimi Saguenees in September of 2004.
- QMJHL Most Sportsmanlike Player (2004-’05, 2005-’06, 2006-’07)
- QMJHL Second All-Star Team (2004-’05, 2005-’06)
- CHL Sportsman of the Year (2006-’07)
Post-junior hardship and triumph
In all of Desharnais’ draft years, he was passed over by every team. No team was willing to give the diminutive center a shot to prove himself. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers signed Desharnais to an amateur try-out contract once his Saguenees were eliminated from the QMJHL playoffs. Nearly a month later after scoring one goal and one assist in seven games, the Islanders AHL affiliate released Desharnais.
In September of 2007, the Montreal Canadiens gave the local kid a shot, they invited him to their training camp courtesy of Guy Carbonneau who recommended him to the Canadiens. The Habs decided to send Desharnais to the Hamilton Bulldogs training camp where he signed an ECHL contract with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Desharnais had a fantastic year in the ECHL which earned himself another camp invite from the Canadiens in 2008. He signed his first NHL contract in November of that season.
Desharnais played a total of 68 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones. He had a total of 29 goals and 77 assists for 106 points in the regular season, a per-game average of 1.56 points. He led the Cyclones to their first Kelly Cup Championship with nine goals and 24 assists for 33 points in 22 playoff games (per-game average of 1.50 points.) Desharnais emerged as a leader within the Cyclones organization and started his ascent to becoming a strong NHL player. Desharnais’ strong season in the ECHL brought him the following awards:
(All 2007-’08 ECHL awards)
- All-Rookie Team
- First All-Star Team
- Kelly Cup Champion
- Most Points – 106
- Plus Performer of the Month – December (plus-15)
- Rookie of the Month – December, March and April
- Rookie of the Year
2008 training camp and contract
Desharnais played in four training camp games for the Canadiens, recording two assists. He was then returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Desharnais started the season with nine points in 11 games for the Bulldogs and was rewarded by the Canadiens with a two-year, two-way contract. Desharnais played the entire season with the Bulldogs, he scored 58 points in 77 games as an AHL rookie, a season in which he was tied for third in rookie scoring.
Splitting time between the Canadiens and Bulldogs
Over the course of the 2009-’10 and 2010-’11 seasons, Desharnais bounced between the Canadiens and the Bulldogs. In the 2009-’10 season, Desharnais spent the majority of the season with the Bulldogs where he scored 78 points in 60 games. He also got his first taste of NHL action, playing in six games where he amassed one point. Desharnais was returned to the AHL where he scored 23 points in 19 games for the Bulldogs in the playoffs.
The following season, Desharnais started to show that he was an NHL regular, before his call up to the Canadiens. Desharnais had 45 points in 35 games for the Bulldogs. Once he was recalled, Desharnais did not look back. Desharnais scored his first career NHL goal on January 12th, 2011 vs the Pittsburgh Penguins. Desharnais was on the ice with his linemates Tom Pyatt and Lars Eller. Desharnais cruised through the slot where he had tipped a P.K. Subban shot up and over M.A. Fleury’s shoulder. Desharnais finished the NHL season with 22 points in 43 games. He had finally made it to the NHL.
First full NHL season
The following season, 2011-’12 was an utterly forgettable one for the Canadiens organization. However for three players, their individual stats displayed chemistry. The trio, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole (who had signed a four-year contract with the Canadiens) was one of the few bright spots for Montreal that season. Desharnais had 16 goals and 44 assists for 60 points in 81 games alongside his two 30 goal scoring wingers.
Everything just clicked for the trio that season but not for the club itself. Erik Cole would slowly fade away and would be traded for Michael Ryder just after the 2012-13 half season lockout. Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais were essentially perfect for each other throughout the next two seasons as they established themselves as a fixture on the Canadiens first line.
Making it to the NHL is no easy task, especially for someone who is undersized, but David Desharnais did it. He has also taken his fair share of criticism from the fans, media and even the mayor of Montreal Dennis Coderre. Perhaps the hardest thing for Desharnais was battling through when he only had one assist in the first 19 games of the 2013-’14 season. He was a healthy scratch at one point for Martin St.Pierre.
As Desharnais was being called out by everyone in Montreal for his horrid start, Mayor Dennis Coderre chimed in with a tweet saying “Hello? can we get a one-way ticket to Hamilton for David Desharnais please” (translated). That tweet might have been the motivation needed for Desharnais who then got back on track with 51 points in his next 60 games for 52 points in 79 games that season. Desharnais was widely criticized for playing on the first line alongside Pacioretty and getting ample chance to score even if it was at the detriment of other players. In no part was this his fault. He was getting minutes and doing what he could.
Just before training camp opened up for the 2015-16 season, the Canadiens announced that they had signed Tomas Fleischmann to a professional try-out. When Fleischmann was paired with David Desharnais and Dale Weise, they had instant chemistry. Subsequently Fleischmann was signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract. At that point one of the better third lines in the league was created.
All three of Desharnais, Fleischmann and Weise have gotten off to very strong starts this season with Desharnais proving that he was not only producing because of Pacioretty. In 19 games, Desharnais has 15 points, Fleischmann has 13 and Weise has 11. The move of demoting Desharnais and signing Fleischmann has proven so far to be a good one.
The Canadiens are off to a 14-3-2 start, rolling four lines, and getting good contributions from the power-play. Everything is clicking so far this season and the Canadiens, most importantly, are scoring at a much higher rate than last season. This is largely in part to a few minor changes in the lineup that helped the Canadiens create more scoring depth.
David Desharnais went from an undersized, undrafted kid to the first line center of the Montreal Canadiens to now being an integral part of the team. The Canadiens are poised to have a very strong season and make a Cup run. Hard work along with his talent have been the biggest factors in the success of Desharnais’ career. He has proven his critics and detractors wrong time and time again.
Desharnais’ story is a really good one as he showed that size isn’t everything in hockey. There is a place for smaller stature players in this league. Desharnais has faced a ton of adversity in his career and it has helped shape the player and leader he is today.