David Desharnais has overcome adversity every year of his hockey career, proving himself at every level of competition before finally cashing in with the Montreal Canadiens. The 4 year, 14 million dollar contract is a huge deal for the undersized center, but he has been defeating the odds since before his junior career began and will prove he is worth every penny. (Or every nickel I suppose since the penny is no more).
Desharnais always had doubters based on his size and was forced to prove himself more so than his peers. This phenomenon began long ago. In 2002 he was passed over by every team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft. Forced to return to play Midget AAA in Quebec, he would establish himself as a legit prospect for the QMJHL and would then be selected early in the second round of the 2003 Q draft.
The Chicoutimi Sagueneens would quickly find out Desharnais was a risk worth taking. He would score 354 points during his 262 game junior career, helping Chicoutimi to the third round of the playoffs on two occasions. However, even though he was eligible to be selected in the 2005 NHL draft, he went unselected once again. 291 names were called out during the draft but no one bothered using a pick on Desharnais.
When his junior career ended following the 2006-07 season Desharnais was invited to the Montreal Canadiens training camp but was not offered a contract. He would play the entire season with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the East Coast Hockey League, a step below the American Hockey League.
Desharnais would make his one and only season in the ECHL successful as he would take home the league’s Rookie of the Year Trophy, Top Scorer Award and the Most Valuable Player Trophy, with 29 goals, 77 assists and 106 points. He would also lead the Cyclones to the playoff title, the Kelly Cup and would only miss out on Playoff MVP to his teammate and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.
Following his success in the ECHL, Desharnais would once again be invited to Montreal’s NHL training camp except this time when he was sent to the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldog’s he did so with a two year, two-way contract. The two way deal kept him in the AHL for all but a brief 6 game audition with the big club in 2010 but once again, Desharnais proved he could score at the next level. Over the two seasons David would pile up 135 points in 136 regular season AHL games and step it up in the playoffs with 27 points in 25 postseason appearances.
Montreal would wisely re-sign Desharnais but he would only receive a one year extension. David would start the 2010-11 season in Hamilton and would continue his scoring pace by piling up 45 points in 35 games before his play would force the Habs to give him a real audition with the big club. He would not look back.
Having conquered the QMJHL, ECHL and AHL and proven many doubters wrong at each step there was only one league left to excel in. Still, many pointed to his small frame and claimed he would not be able to duplicate his success with Montreal.
Desharnais, however knew he was well prepared to contribute at the NHL level. He had formed a unique chemistry with fellow Habs prospect Max Pacioretty during their time together with the Bulldogs.
After a few brief call-ups in the first half of the 2010-11 season, Desharnais would be brought up for good on New Year’s Eve and finish the season with 22 points in 43 games. He would be rewarded with a two year, one way deal that would ensure he stayed in the NHL for the next two seasons.
Desharnais made it very easy on the Habs to keep him in the NHL anyway by notching 60 points during his first full NHL campaign last season. He was one of the very few bright spots on a 2011-12 season most Habs fans would rather forget altogether.
Once an afterthought in the QMJHL, Desharnais had now proven to be a capable scorer against any level of competition.
This season began slowly for Desharnais but once he and Pacioretty were paired with Brendan Gallagher, their offensive numbers began to shine. Though small in stature, Desharnais is capable of fending of defenders by protecting the puck along the boards and buying time for his teammates to find open ice. Once they find the smallest of openings, Desharnais uses his excellent vision and slick passing to get the puck right on their tape.
Montreal has the type of lineup that appears it can continue their success for the foreseeable future. However hockey is a very unpredictable game. Looking ahead four years from now it is hard to say what this team will look like. One thing about the 2016-17 version of the Montreal Canadiens is for certain. David Desharnais will be on a line with Max Pacioretty and their chemistry will be greater than ever.
Desharnais has been proving doubters wrong long before he made it to the National Hockey League. It will not be a problem for him to prove he is worthy of his contract as well.