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Frozen Frames: How Phillip Danault quietly drives offence

Danault’s ability to support his teammate with strong positioning and reads helps his line hit the scoresheet.

Winnipeg Jets v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The trio of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault, and Jonathan Drouin was explosive last Thursday. They didn’t fare as well against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Saturday’s divisional matchup, but still had their fair share of offensive looks. The line has chemistry, and it makes it very effective right now, even against the best elements of the opposition.

This chemistry is due to the three players having their own identity and contributing in different ways to the success of the group. Gallagher can shoot the puck, or take it to the net for goals right at the doorstep, and Drouin, the playmaker, can find his teammates in high-danger areas. But perhaps the key contributor and the main driver of the trio is someone who tends to pick up his points in less memorable ways: Danault.

The centreman isn’t the most skilled player on his line, but there is a reason why he produces at the rhythm he has recently. And it’s not because he is feeding off the offence generated by his wingers.

He contributes to the scoresheet by being in both great defensive and offensive position at the same time on the ice. He is the element of support on his line. What he does best is provide timely options to his teammates, helping them take the puck out of the opponent’s control, making it move toward the offensive end and keeping it there for as long as possible.

Many offensive plays originate from his stick when he is on the ice, often starting very far from the opposing net. Danault is great on the forecheck and at applying back pressure, and he has a knack for anticipating where turnovers will happen — both for his team and the opposition. When they occur, he is often right there to regain possession.

His ability to play a physical game, get on opponents, and take the puck away are great complementary facets to his game. He likes playing in close quarters and can resist defensive pressure while protecting the puck, forcing opponents to engage him physically and freeing space for his more skilled teammates to operate in.

Danault enables the other players on the ice to play their games effectively. It’s not always the most praised role, but it’s an absolutely necessary one. Enablers are loved by their teammates because they make the game easier to play for everyone else. Not many can play that role and do it as effectively as Danault, as it requires total investment, both mentally and physically.

The Habs’ centreman is committed, knows his strengths, and for this reason, has become a pillar of this Montreal Canadiens team.