When Canadiens fans consider the top prospects in the organization the first thoughts usually center around pivot Louis Leblanc, who was cut today from the Team Canada junior camp. Other names crop up, such as defensemen P.K. Subban and Yannick weber as well as center Ben Maxwell, but a name often overlooked and seldom caught on the radar is goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, currently burning up the AHL statistically.
Desjardins is the subject of a column today by Mathias Brunet of La Presse, who reports that the Bulldogs stopper is on fire of late, having surrendered but one goal in his last four games.
Call it food for thought, but could this be why Jaroslav Halak trade rumours are heating up at the moment?
Consider the following: Desjardins' record is 8-4-1-4 with a 1.45 GAA. His save percentage is .944, second best in the AHL behind Dallas Stars prospect Brent Krahn. He recently came within minutes of topping a 1957 Johnny Bower AHL record for consecutive shutout minutes.
Those are the kind of numbers that turn heads in a league!
For Canadiens' fans unacquainted with Desjardins, it may be due to the fact that he was a somewhat unheralded free agent signing in 2006. After getting his start with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL during the Sydney Crosby era, Desjardins moved on the Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts, winning the Memorial Cup in 2006.
He has come a long way from being drafted 200th overall by the Halifax Mooseheads of the Q in 2002. His first season in junior has hardly a success, winning only one of 23 games he appeared in.
By the 2004-05 season, he had moved on to Rimouski, earning the starters job. It was a season of growth playing alongside Crosby, and the Oceanic made it all the way to the Memorial Cup final, which they lost to the powerhouse London Knights 4-0.
At 20 years of age, and undrafted at the NHL level, Desjardins did not despair in his search for a professional contract. He signed on with Roy's Remparts as an overaged junior, and Quebec rode his hot hand all the way to the league championship, which was lost in six games to the Moncton Wildcats. As Moncton for the host team for the Memorial Cup that season, Desjardins and the Remparts, as finalists, were given a bye into the Canadian junior final round robin.
It was there that Desjardins truly made a lasting impression, as he guided the underdog Remparts to the Memorial Cup title. He was stellar under the gun in the final game as the Wildcats fired 48 shots in his direction, beating him only twice as Quebec cruised to a 6-2 upset.
Later that summer, Desjardins was invited to the Chicago Blackhawks training camp, but eventually signed a contract to play with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
With goalies Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak, Cristobal Huet and Yann Danis all ahead him on the Canadiens depth chart in goal, Desjardins was assigned to the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones in October of 2006. He was twice called to Hamilton first replacing Halak when he was called up to Montreal and a second time upon the trade of Huet to Washington.
In 2008, following the Bulldogs missing the playoffs, he was returned to the Cyclones just in time to lead them all the way to the Kelly Cup title in 2008.
Like he done in the Quebec league prior, Desjardins was once again named playoff MVP.
Last season, desjardins split time in Hamilton with veteran Marc Denis and has shared the load this season with Curtis Sanford.
A high point in his career in the Canadiens organization came at the Habs' camp in 2008, when he was put in goal for the third period of an exhibition game against the Detroit Red Wings. Desjardins allowed no goals in his 25 minutes of play including overtime, and promptly shut the door on the Wings snipers in the shootout in backstopping the Habs to the win.
The 24 year old from Edmunston, New Brunswick has made a career of defying the odds against him. From Brunet's La Presse article, current Bulldogs coach Guy Boucher had this this to say:
Everywhere Cedrick has played, he was tagged as the goalie who most assumed would not lead. He was the guy in nets by default or circumstance. With the Oceanic, he came into the team plans as a third string goalie but performed well enough to play regularly. In time, he became the starter, but we weren't sure of winning with him, so the team aquired a 20 year old to take the helm. Cedrick soon outperformed him as well. We won the President's Cup and made it to the Memorial Cup final that season. Crosby and Desjardins were incredible in those playoffs.
Boucher goes on to answer in theory why Desjardins had continuously flown under the radar.
As a goalie, he does not have an imposing presence about him, nor is he looked upon as having abundant natural abilities. But, he's a ferocious competitor. He's extraordinarily strong on second and third rebounds. He pulls rabbits out of his hat it seems. At any given time, when he looks beaten, he'll surprise and make the stop. It's not luck. He's extremely quick and very athletic.
Brunet goes on to say that Boucher and his assistants helped in refining Desjardins' technique.
In Rimouski, as an assistant coach, I was in charge of handling Desjardins' psychological approach in games. I've known him well for some time now and we have put in a lot of time together. We've worked on patience together. The biggest difference between junior and pro or the East Coast League is that the initial shot on goal becomes much more important. In junior, that first shot is easier to stop because it is not as hard. At the pro level, shots are fired without warning. Pro levels goalies who are having difficulties adjusting are the ones who have the most trouble with that first shot. What Cedrick had to learn was to concentrate singularly on that first shot instead of worrying abou the consequences of a rebound. He had a tendency to try and predict what he would be doing next rather than focusing on the first task. Now he more concentrated on the first chance and as aggressive on rebounds.
In talking of Desjardins and his season, Boucher would not yet term either he or Sanford as the team's number one goalie. Sanford has been equally strong, but his wife has recently given birth and Desjardins' performances have come during the veteran's lightened workload. The goalies had been alternating until recently, but as Desjardins gained the hot hand, Boucher felt it best to ride it out.
The coach was non-committal as per Desjardins short or longer term prospects with the Canadiens. That talk was not up for discussions as Boucher would not want such scenarios hampering his goalie's focus at the present time.
He must continue to focus uniquely on the next game and not about what comes along in two weeks time. Not on whether in six months he'll be the number one. In Hamilton, our goals are to help the players reach the NHL level and Cedrick has always taking things a step at a time. For now, his challenge is to demonstate the consistency required from being a number one AHL goalie.