Edmonton Oilers

Vincent Desharnais could be the Edmonton Oilers’ missing piece

Vincent Desharnais has had a long journey to the NHL, and by no means a route often taken. After four seasons in the NCAA, 26-year-old Desharnais spent one season in the ECHL, and two in the AHL, before earning his NHL call up this season.

Throughout this journey, offensive production has never been the calling card of Desharnais’ game. In fact, his best offensive performance has come recently with five goals and 27 points in 66 AHL games last season, and three points through seven games in the NHL this season.

It has been Desharnais’ defensive attributes that have paved the path for his success. Naturally, his 6’6” size is a huge asset in this regard, but Desharnais has built up a lot of experience as he has worked his way up the ranks. It seems that every year he ends the season in a greater role than he started it with. Despite his size, Desharnais is not a goon, and has been able to keep his penalty minutes at a reasonable level. Without the sparkling offensive numbers or a draft pedigree, Desharnais has earned every step of his long journey through steady and responsible play.

Desharnais fits perfectly in the Oilers’ lineup

Desharnais is a perfect fit for the Oilers current roster. With Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard occupying the right side, a penalty kill that struggled early in the season, and a history of using seven defencemen lineups, Desharnais could not ask for a more tailor made situation.

Naturally, the fact that his coach Jay Woodcroft is familiar with him as a person and player is a huge asset as well—Desharnais served under Woodcroft in the AHL as recently as last season. In all, this is a perfect storm for Desharnais, who has quickly made good on his opportunity.

The Oilers needed a left shot defenceman

Desharnais has taken shifts with all three left shot regulars on the Oilers blueline—Darnell Nurse, Brett Kulak, and Philip Broberg—at even strength, cycling through as the seventh defender. Perhaps more importantly, Desharnais has immediately stepped into an important void that the Oilers needed filled: a right shot defenceman on the penalty kill.

With Nurse and Cody Ceci taking the lead as the top PK pairing, Kulak was without a natural partner for much of the season. Right shots Barrie and Bouchard are not predisposed to be penalty killers (though Bouchard could get there at some point), and left shots like Ryan Murray or Markus Niemelainen might have the skill sets, but not to a degree that they could overcome playing their weak side.

Broberg has the potential to be an effective penalty killer, perhaps with enough quality to play his weak side as well, but as a rookie such a demand would not exactly be putting the player in a position to succeed. With hopes of contending, the need to find a player to fill the void on the PK was a must, the biggest need for the Oilers heading into the deadline.

Has Desharnais filled it? Early signs point to a resounding yes. With three assists (two of which are primary assists), it is quite unlikely that Desharnais operates at a 0.5 point per game pace, but even in this small sample he has shown that he is capable beyond a true role player. Already, based on his points and time on ice averages, he has surpassed the contributions of Niemelainen, who represents a true role player.

Expecting more than this is not likely, as Desharnais hasn’t played as much as Broberg or even Murray when in the lineup, but his skills and the Oilers needs are one and the same. In some ways, Desharnais might be the perfect deadline addition, coming at the cost of a roster spot and a negligible cap hit over league minimum.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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