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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: David Desharnais

As centre ice becomes more crowded, this will be a big year for the Habs pivot.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

David Desharnais is entering his sixth season as a regular member of the Montreal Canadiens, and has spent the last three seasons on the team's top scoring line. These seasons have been marred with both flashes of playmaking brilliance, and prolonged periods of scoring impotence. He enters this season perhaps with more pressure on his shoulders than ever before, as he will need to fight to keep his place in an increasingly competitive depth chart.

With Alex Galchenyuk moving to centre, the middle of the ice is a lot more crowded, and Desharnais will need to show the coaching staff his best if he wants to stay at that position. He and Max Pacioretty have a certain familiarity that gives him an edge, but if he can't produce they will have to use someone that will.

2014-15 Review

David Desharnais scored 14 goals and added 34 assists as a first-line centre, but he had his fair share of ups and downs.

Frequently lauded for his vision and playmaking ability, he seemed to lose confidence in his own play and took the criticism to heart. After listless performances you could see the frustration on his face when he would talk to the media.

At one point things got so dire for the Habs' forward that he was moved to wing in a move that Michel Therrien called good for his career. This was largely seen as a last ditch attempt to kickstart him before further steps were to be taken. He became yet again a favourite whipping boy of the media, and the fans grew restless at his ineffectiveness playing privileged minutes next to Pacioretty.

Desharnais 10-game CF% condensed
2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Desharnais on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On Ice. Charts created by Spencer Mann.

Desharnais maintained an above-average CF% throughout the year, which is probably to be expected considering his usage. He struggled with long periods of inconsistency, most notably a 17-game stretch to start the year, when he scored only one goal, while adding six assists. Interestingly, One of his best sequence of games came in the middle of the season, when he was separated from his longtime linemate, Pacioretty.

2015-16 Projection

It is difficult to properly predict what sort of season we can expect from Desharnais. Galchenyuk's move to centre creates an overstock situation, where one of Lars Eller or Desharnais will find themselves shunted to the unfamiliar position of wing. Based on the intra-squad lineups it appears to be Eller that will play the wing, but nothing is set in stone at this point.

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic GalaminiCalculation procedure

Given Desharnais' success on the wing last season, and the lowered pressure of playing in that spot, it could prove to be beneficial for David in the long run, as he enters the third season of a four year deal that pays him $3.5M per season. He will no longer be expected to pivot the team's top line, and therefore might have less pressure on himself to perform.

However, it is entirely possible that Michel Therrien will decide to keep status quo, and continue to play Desharnais with Pacioretty. If so, questions will arise immediately as to whether the slumps of the two previous seasons will emerge again.

An expectation for him to reach his career average of 50 points in a season is reasonable. If he hits that while playing the unfamiliar position on the wing, then we can consider the transition a success. If he is to remain at centre, that is the number that he must at all costs shatter if he wants to remain in the organization.

The improbable story of his ascent into the NHL is full of roadblocks and barriers, and at each stage he proved the naysayers wrong by outperforming expectations. This year the naysayers are saying that Desharnais has his back against the wall, and needs to prove his worth all over again. Let's just remember, that in that situation, David Desharnais is at his absolute best.