Phillip Danault, More Than a Fourth Liner

(Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

by Matt Smith, Staff Writer/Social Media Specialist, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin recognized last season that the Habs were on the outside looking in when it came to the playoff picture. When the trade deadline approached, the general manager dealt two veteran players in preference of a young forward and a draft pick, a trade that is now looking like a steal for the Canadiens organization. Even though some were swift to point the finger at Bergevin of “not getting enough” from the Chicago Blackhawks, the Habs GM has demonstrated to us that he knew what he was doing when he made the deal.

Tomas Fleischmann who was signed to a team friendly $750,000, one-year deal after a successful professional try-out contract (PTO) put up 10 goals and 10 assists with the Habs in 57 games. Fleischmann scored four goals and one assist in 19 games with the Blackhawks, not recording a point in four playoff games. He currently is not playing in the NHL.

Dale Weise, a fan favorite in Montreal, was a player that was relied on as a top six forward far too many times with the Canadiens. Weise was also traded to the Blackhawks after scoring 14 goals, adding 12 assists in 56 games with Montreal last season. After suiting up for Chicago, Weise managed just one assist in 15 regular season games, while adding one goal in four playoff games.

Fast-forward to the 2016-17 regular season. As mentioned, Fleischmann is on the outside looking in and Weise, after signing a four-year, $9.4 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, has just two goals and two assists in 38 games.

In return for Fleischmann and Weise, the Canadiens received forward Phillip Danault and a 2018 second round draft pick (giving them three second round picks in 2018). Danault, a former first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, is signed for this season and next to a team friendly $912,500 contract.

Last season, Danault had four goals and six assists in 51 games in the NHL. This season, the 23-year-old is ahead of that pace with nine goals and 12 assists in 42 games. In my opinion, you can unmistakably see that the Canadiens came out on top of this trade deadline deal. The second round pick is simply a bonus,  with the option of adding talent or flipping the pick in a trade given that the Habs have five second round selections in the next two drafts.  

Bergevin made the following statement the day he made the trade:

“Phillip Danault is a young and gifted player who will be part of our core group of young forwards for many years to come. I am very pleased to have him join our organization. As a member of the Blackhawks management group, I was instrumental in the selection of Phillip in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft.”

On Wednesday, Phillip Danault led all Habs forwards in ice time with 20:16, winning 60 per cent of his faceoffs and  scoring two goals (including a magnificent end-to-end rush.) His strong play on an injured Habs roster has triggered speculation that the Habs could look to trade Tomas Plekanec. Could Danault slot into the second line centre position when Alex Galchenyuk returns from injury (as early as Saturday against the Rangers?)

Young players have been stepping up lately due to injuries. Artturi Lehkonen is developing into a scoring, defensively-responsible winger. Mike McCarron has had his share of good games, scoring as well as dropping the mitts against the Maple Leafs. Sven Andrighetto is finally starting to look like an NHL roster player. And Nikita Scherbak made his NHL debut, scoring his first career goal.

What does the future hold for Phillip Danault?

I believe many fans would love to see Danault turn out to be the next Tomas Plekanec or Lars Eller. In my opinion, if he can improve his defensive game, Danault would be the ideal strong two-way centre who can play up and down the lineup when called upon and can also chip in offensively. Danault has begun to gain the trust of Michel Therrien for his faceoff ability, speed and strong hockey IQ.

When it comes to Plekanec, the Habs are in need of a boost at centre. Alex Galchenyuk cannot do “all the scoring” at the centre position, and David Desharnais is now at last the extra piece in the Habs forward lines. It will be interesting to see how Plekanec will be used once players return from injury. Will the Canadiens showcase Plekanec for a potential trade or to be selected during the expansion draft?

If relegated to a third-line role, Plekanec would be overpaid making $6 million for another season. If he could be dealt as part of a package to bring back a true top six centre, Bergevin would be all over that deal, especially if his name was Matt Duchene. Combine solid depth down the middle with defensive play from Shea Weber, a young prospect in Mikhail Sergachev and having the best goaltender on earth between the pipes, the Habs have the potential to become that much better in 2017-18.