When Nicolas Deslauriers was acquired in a trade for Zach Redmond in October, it looked like the 27 year old forward would be one of the veteran leaders in the locker room for the Laval Rocket. Through 14 games, it was looking highly likely that he wouldn’t even become one of those leaders for the Rocket, he struggled with point production (five points in 14 games), and generally was a non-factor in many games. Then on November 15th Deslauriers got the call for NHL duty over Daniel Carr, and he would never again see the AHL in this season.
We’ll dig into the positives first, it was an absolute career year for Deslauriers in terms of goal scoring, as the hard hitting fourth liner tallied ten goals over the course of the season with Montreal. While he played the prototypical fourth line style for the Habs, many of Deslauriers’ goals were pretty impressive to watch, not just cleaning up rebounds or poking home pucks in a scrum. He showcased soft hands around the net, and an acute sense of awareness to find soft spots in the defence to get into good scoring positions.
Nic Deslauriers with the nifty hands in close, gets his 6th goal of the year.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 16, 2018
Also first NHL point for Jakub Jerabek! pic.twitter.com/x7htZR4Gtk
Despite not playing at all on the power play this year, Deslauriers still managed to rack up shots from key areas on the ice, particularly in the slot and around the goal crease.
While not brought in for offensive output, Deslauriers was second the group of fourth liners (Logan Shaw, Daniel Carr, Jacob de la Rose and Byron Froese) in high danger chances for (104) trailing only de la Rose (109), but it’s worth noting that by the end of the year de la Rose was playing in a much larger role. If the Canadiens can at least get this same effort from Deslauriers next year in the offensive zone, then they’re setting themselves up for a decent run from their bottom six again.
Deslauriers would further endear himself to the fan-base with a high energy playing style, and never quitting on plays, not to mention his almost borderline reckless goal celebrations. He hit everything that moved on the ice, and when necessary would throw down his gloves to fight (per HockeyFights.com he was 5-0 this year). In short he was exactly as advertised for the Canadiens, with the added benefit of some extra goal scoring on a team that desperately needed it. His play earned him a two year extension with his hometown club, and at $950,000 he isn’t being overpaid for the role he plays on this team going forward.
However, there are drawbacks in Deslauriers game, even in his best season he has plenty of flaws that should be kept in mind when examining this past season. In terms of the simplest advanced metrics, Deslauriers was third worst on the Montreal roster in terms of Corsi For%. Clocking in at a paltry 46.63%, he wasn’t exactly keeping pucks off his goalies in the defensive zone, and driving play the other way. In comparison to his teammates he was a -8.27 CF/60 rel, and in most metrics was a negative in terms of possession.
When we delve even further into Deslauriers numbers a few red flags pop up almost immediately. He has the third highest on-ice shooting percentage on the team (7.09%), the highest on-ice save percentage (95.38%), the highest PDO on the team (1.025), and the second highest shooting percentage overall (13.33%). All of these combine for conglomeration of potentially bad news. These stats are solely among Habs forwards, and to consistently rank so highly in so many areas raises a few concerns.
To simplify things, Deslauriers set a career high in goals, with a shooting percentage that is nearly six full points higher than his career average of 7.8%. In addition, when he was on the ice, he was the beneficiary of the best 5v5 save percentage on the team, in addition to his teammates shooting at a higher level. The combination of all these factors makes it fairly apparent that Deslauriers was reaping the rewards of a run of luck this season, and Claude Julien will need to monitor the situation carefully next year.
There is also the concern of his play in the AHL, where most nights he looked entirely disinterested in what was going on during play, and failed to generate much production for a veteran player on a young team. While he found a new level in the NHL, there should be a lingering concern over effort when things aren’t going a player’s way during the season. Even in the NHL he didn’t look like a regular option until Carr joined his line with Froese. Once they were put together, the trio went on a fantastic run, which coincided with Deslauriers’ massive PDO spike. When separated from those two, he looked more like the player he was in Buffalo, taking a few games on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin. Despite the skill of his line-mates, he was unable to keep pace or be the missing cog for them.
He’s a fine piece for the fourth line, but with the possession numbers looking the way they do, and the fact that he had an extremely lucky season, there is cause concern for next year. If Deslauriers needed a massive boost in luck and shooting percentage to be a regular fourth liner, what is going to happen when the numbers regress towards the mean? Hopefully with his reinvigorated play in Montreal the Canadiens get similar results, or at least decent production from him next year.
Deslauriers found himself a new home, and a new fanbase that he immediately endeared himself to in Montreal. He plays that fan-favourite, hard hitting, all hustle style that people appreciate, even if the points aren’t there. This year he found his goal scoring touch, but it comes with the concern that this season is primarily an outlier, not the normal trend going forward. For the Canadiens, and fans, having realistic expectations next year will be best with Deslauriers It is highly unlikely that he will crack double digits unless he rides another wave of PDO. The good news is that if he does, then the team has made a sound investment in a fourth line forward who can provide depth scoring. Anything can happen, just don’t be surprised if we see a step back in his point totals next year, it’s not the end of the world, it’s just a return to normalcy.
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