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David Desharnais showing unexpected versatility in new role

With every possible reason to sulk and let his play slip further, David Desharnais has instead grabbed the bull by the horns and begun to turn around his season.

Joe Sargent

When David Desharnais was taken off of the Montreal Canadiens' top line with Max Pacioretty and shifted to the third line, it was more than fair to expect him to be upset. After nearly three and a half seasons riding shotgun to one of the league's elite goal scorers, Desharnais was looking at having to do a lot more work himself going forward. He said that it was difficult to play away from Pacioretty after so long, but he didn't complain.

When Lars Eller came back from injury and took over Desharnais' center spot on the third line, and he was shifted off to the left wing for the first time since he was a rookie in the spring of 2011, it wouldn't be uncommon to see a player of his stature sulk.

No, I'm not saying Desharnais is an elite player, but he did have 140 points in the three seasons heading into this one, more than David Backes, Ryan O'Reilly, or Paul Stastny. Sometimes in the microscope of Montreal, we can ignore just how good players here are.

But Desharnais didn't sulk, in fact he almost immediately broke a 12-game goal drought, and a five-on-five goal drought dating back to last season. Instead of sulking, Desharnais began to play his most inspired hockey of the season, skating with extra effort and showing that he can survive in the corners if he needs to.

It wasn't all roses on the wing for Desharnais right away though. His offensive game immediately picked up, but defensively he was struggling big time, with a lower success rate on plays in the defensive and neutral zone, but as Olivier Bouchard has noted recently, that part of his game is rounding into form.

Desharnais has scored four times in 11 games since the switch was made, compared to two in his previous 29. Part of that is a bit of regression, as Desharnais has been remarkably unlucky, and typically a high percentage shooter. However the move to wing has forced him to diversify his game a bit, and without a primo shooter like Pacioretty on his line (no disrespect to Tomas Plekanec) Desharnais is shooting more himself.

While his six points in 11 games isn't anything special, having an extra winger who can produce at over a half point per game in a top-nine role at a reasonable salary is a boon. Even better, that winger can seamlessly shift to center if there happens to be an injury anywhere in the lineup.

Because of the worry about when Alex Galchenyuk would shift to center, there's been a clamouring to trade David Desharnais over the last season and a bit, but after he has shown his ability to play the wing, there really is no need. While Desharnais is a below average center on the defensive side of the puck, with a bit more practice, he should end up being an above average defensive winger. On a team like the Canadiens that boasts very few two-way forwards, Desharnais could become a bigger asset on the wing than he ever was as a center.