When Marc Bergevin flipped Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Blackhawks for Phillip Danault and a future draft pick, it was a clear seller’s move. It was also one of the better deals he’s made in recent memory, as he acquired some tangible assets for two expiring contracts unlikely to be extended.
A former first-round pick of the Blackhawks, Danault appeared in just 32 games for them over two seasons before the Blackhawks parted ways with him. Scoring just one goal and five points during those games, his stats alone were far from spectacular. But piling up the points is not Danault’s game.
Though he possessed solid scoring during his days in the QMJHL, his contributions at the AHL and NHL levels have been about dependable, solid defense.
It will be a dogfight this year to see who will be able to grab one of the few remaining roster spots for opening night, but Danault figures to be very much in the mix for one. Though the top-six seems like something that will always be out of his reach, the bottom-six could definitely use the steady defensive presence that he provides.
It should be interesting to watch how he fares in the preseason, where he’ll likely get plenty of playing time to prove himself.
With a low vote of 15 and a high of sixth, it is clear that the EOTP panel values the defensive game he brings. Five ballots including my own gave him top-10 consideration, so the 11 spot seems a very fair place for him to have landed.
Top 25 Under 25 History
This is Danault’s first year of eligibility here at EOTP. However, he did manage to grab the ninth spot with our friends over at Second City Hockey in their top-25 last year.
Danault has all the makings of a defensive stalwart. He boasts excellent positioning in his own zone, you very rarely see him running around, and he puts a serious damper on the opposing team’s offensive aspirations as a result.
I love his defensive game, it is the reason why I was willing to rank him as high as I did at 10th. Offensive skills are something I believe can be developed a little easier, and he is so good defensively that he’s already capable of taking on tough minutes in a shutdown role.
His other clear strength is his skating. He has good top-end speed, and gets there quickly. He is a veritable puck hound, always getting there to challenge for possession if he doesn’t have it, and at 6’0" and over 200lbs, he has the physicality to win battles when necessary as well.
While he tripled his NHL career total of one goal (through 32 games with Chicago) during his 21 games in Montreal last year, he has very limited offensive upside. From what I’ve seen he lacks the high-end vision and puck skills to make things happen at the other end.
As mentioned, I do believe that these skills are easier to acquire than defensive prowess. Other than puck handling skills, I’d also like to see him develop a more deceptive shot. From what I’ve seen he tends to telegraph it a little, making life easy for opposing defenders and goaltenders.
Because of his defensive prowess, he is in essence a human fast-forward button. He will not concede much, if any scoring against when he’s on the ice, but he cannot be expected to light it up at the other end either. If he could develop some more offence, he would be quite the interesting piece to have on the roster.
I basically see Danault’s ceiling as being Lars Eller 2.0. Much like the departed Eller, Danault can eat up tough defensive minutes, but doesn’t blow the doors off offensively. Unless he really adds to his offensive tool bag, that’s about as high as I see him rising.
And that isn’t a problem, because players of that style are extremely useful. Danault is also versatile, as he can skate in the middle or on the wing. I am partial towards easing him into a role at centre in the bottom-six, anchoring a shutdown line and taking penalty kill time as well. This likely means a healthy dose of time on the wing this year.
But I would very much like to see him add some offence, because then we’d have a heck of a player on our hands. I’m not trying to say he could become the next Tomas Plekanec, but if he were the pivot on a shutdown line that could also bite back a little, it certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances of having a successful career in Montreal.
At the very least, it should be interesting to see if he can challenge for a permanent spot in the Canadiens’ lineup this season.