With Max Pacioretty absent from practice on Wednesday, David Desharnais skated in the captain's first line wing spot, but will suit up as the Habs' third line pivot Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings. He will skate between Stefan Matteau and Michael McCarron.
Les trios du #CH ce soir:— Chantal Machabee (@ChantalMachabee) March 24, 2016
Michel Therrien confirmed to the press on Tuesday that Alex Galchenyuk will play the remainder of this season at centre, so the question becomes whether Desharnais continues to centre the third unit, or if he plays his way back into the top six.
Lars Eller looks far more comfortable when he plays at centre than he does at left wing. His skating, loose puck recovery, and defensive prowess are at their best when he plays up the middle. He is a dominant third-line centre, and a mediocre second line winger. Injuries, it seems, will keep Eller on Plekanec's flank.
Eller would be a better option for that line, and you also have to consider that there is a capable centre skating to Desharnais' left tonight in Michael McCarron. There is a young player who could greatly benefit from the experience, but will not be getting that opportunity.
So why the need to place Desharnais at Centre, when there are plenty of seemingly better, and younger options on the roster? With the interest of developing the team's young talent more, it would be best for Michel Therrien to use him on the wing moving forwards.
Desharnais has been as good, if not better, whenever he has played wing. His vision and passing skills are not hampered by a shift to the left side, and he has produced offensively at a similar rate regardless of his position.
It wouldn't be surprising, given Michel Therrien's trust in him, to see him moved up if he has some early success. Say he finds the back of the net or creates a lot of scoring chances, he could be moved up on the left wing beside Tomas Plekanec, allowing Lars Eller to return back to the middle of the third trio.
It would be far from ideal, but if Therrien really wants to reunite him with Max Pacioretty and keep his word about Galchenyuk playing as a centre, he could even try him on the right side of that top line. Ideally Sven Andrighetto returns to that role once healthy, but Desharnais could be a better option than Paul Byron in the interim.
Much of the fan ire that has been directed at Desharnais in the past is really pointed to his usage and deployment by Michel Therrien, and not at the player himself. He is an above-average forward for a third line, and can contribute in a limited top-six role. Ongoing injury issues have jumbled the lineup of late, and the return of Desharnais could only add to the blender effect.
Will Desharnais finish the game where he started, or will he play his way back into the coach's good graces, and thus back into the top six? As long as he's moved to the wing, most fans will likely be able to deal with him getting moved up.