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2016-17 Canadiens Season Review: Phillip Danault emerged as an offensive centre

A surprise promotion at the beginning of the year took Danault to new heights.

Montreal Canadiens v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images

Phillip Danault was acquired near the trade deadline in 2015-16. With a second-round pick completing the transaction for two Montreal Canadiens players on expiring contracts, the deal immediately seemed to be a long-term victory for Marc Bergevin, adding some future assets in a season when a playoff berth wasn’t on the table.

He was used only in light deployments in the final six weeks of the regular season, usually centring bit players at the bottom of the lineup and not getting much of a chance to show what he could do, producing just five points in 21 games.

When Lars Eller was moved on the opening day of the entry draft, most people wondered how a player with 10 points in 53 NHL games would be able step into the role as the team’s third-line centre.

Matching his production with the Habs from the previous season in the first 11 games while playing with Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn, his time in the bottom six was short-lived. He got promoted to regular duty with Max Pacioretty on his left wing and that duo played together for the majority of the season.

As a result, Danault’s offensive game exploded. His 55.9 shot-attempts-for percentage ranked second on the team behind just Brendan Gallagher, and was good for 15th in the NHL among forwards playing at least 400 minutes. A 57.8 scoring-chances-for percentage was the best mark on the team, and 21st in that same NHL sample.

The conversion rate on all that offensive-zone pressure wasn’t quite as impressive, as he finished a full 82-game schedule below a half-point-per-game pace, though he did see a major improvement over his rookie contribution.

Despite the time on the team’s first line, Danault’s offensive contribution didn’t rank among the league’s top 90 forwards. In fact, his points-per-60-minutes value ranks right in the middle of the 91-180 range of second-line attackers.

His 40 points were well behind the totals of his two most common linemates: Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov with 67 and 54, respectively. Both of those players saw significant time on the power play, with Danault usually on the bench in favour of Andrew Shaw or Alex Galchenyuk. Danault’s two five-on-four points in over 50 minutes of ice time is perhaps another indication of a lack of top-tier offensive ability.

Lineup spot

With Galchenyuk having more points in fewer games with less-skilled linemates, there’s little debate to be had about which of those two players is the best option to play alongside the team’s top offensive threats. But there’s also no denying the abilities of Danault, especially considering what he was able to do in a sophomore season that he surely expected to spend as a mid-lineup player when things kicked off in October.

If he is removed from the top line next year, he may not be able to duplicate that 40-point effort, but with more experience, a better understanding of his role entering the season, and a stable cast of quality linemates, it’s definitely not out of the question. His underlying numbers point to a player able to control the puck, one good at both ends of the ice who could be paired with more one-dimensional offensive players on a middle-six line.

With one more year on his contract, taking up just $912,500 of precious salary cap space, he’ll be a cost-effective centre solution that will allow the Habs to spend more if they decide to target a big-name forward in the off-season. The team can be confident that at least one of those centre spots that are perceived to be the biggest weakness is filled by a capable young forward. But perhaps that spot shouldn’t be on the top trio.


Grade Danault’s season

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