Oilers’ Vincent Desharnais emerged as an unsung hero in Round 1 vs. the Kings

After a hard-fought game, Edmonton Oilers’ defenceman Vincent Desharnais likely doesn’t measure his success by looking for his goals or assists on the scoresheet but by counting the number of bumps and bruises he endured throughout the night thanks to his dedication to being a gritty, physical D-man.

The 27-year-old emerged as a feel-good-story last season when he earned his first NHL call-up in February of last year, finishing with a plus +15 rating in 36 regular season games and followed it up with a steady sophomore campaign, finishing with 11 points in 78 games this past regular season.

Desharnais has made significant strides in his development in only his second NHL season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings, his play was exceptional, and he emerged as a key player, a big shift from his postseason debut last year when the towering D-man faced several challenges. That said, let’s take a look at how he’s stepped up his game since last postseason and how he quietly emerged as an unsung hero for the Oilers in Round 1.

Desharnais Struggled Against the Kings Last Year

It was in Game 4 in the first round of last year’s playoffs that Desharnais’ struggles were most evident. He struggled to keep up with the Kings’ speed, and it caused issues with his puck management from time to time. In the first period, Kevin Fiala beat him to the outside, resulting in a goal against. Later in the frame, Viktor Arvidsson spun around him for a leisurely break to the net, beating Stuart Skinner.

He was the culprit on three goals against in the first period alone. As a result, then-head coach Jay Woodcroft played him minimally for the rest of the game, and he only saw a total of 7:16 minutes of ice time. The Oilers, of course, went on to beat the Kings in six games and were eventually ousted to the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Vegas Golden Knights, and Desharnais also had some rough patches in that series.

Desharnais’ Offseason Work Is Paying off in Playoffs

That said, it was noted that in the offseason, Desharnais not only worked on his mental preparation but also focused on improving his footspeed and puck skills, and his efforts to improve were evident in his play in the last round against the Kings.

The Oilers’ blueliner averaged 17:34 minutes a game and looked more like an NHL veteran patrolling the blue line than a player only in his second-ever NHL playoff run. From my observation, the 6-foot-6 behemoth didn’t seem to get caught off guard or overwhelmed by Los Angeles’ faster players. His long reach actively swatted pucks away, and he made good plays under pressure.

Additionally, he was an unsung hero in Game 4. Head coach Kris Knoblauch trusted hn excellentis defenceman by sending him out with Mattias Ekholm to protect the one-goal lead with only 1:21 minutes remaining in the game.

Desharnais kept the Kings’ attack to the outside in that span with his long reach and good positioning. He executed a good clear out of the zone, made an excellent block in the slot, and prevented Anze Kopitar from shooting the loose puck. Additionally, he erased another forward along the boards to prevent him from making a play. In the last minute, Desharnais’ pivotal role played a key part in securing the win for the Oilers in Game 4 — quite a difference from a year ago when he struggled and was stapled to the bench.

Moreover, the blueliner faced tough competition. The player he faced the most in the series at 5v5 was Fiala, and the Oiler logged 23:55 minutes against him. That said, Desharnais and his defensive partner Brett Kulak held steady, posting a 50% goal share at 5v5 in five games against the Kings, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is ideal for a third pairing.

Also, the Oilers’ penalty kill was dominant in the series, successfully killing off all 13 penalties, and Desharnais was Edmonton’s biggest minute muncher (13:13 minutes) on the PK throughout the five games. The 27-year-old was also a physical presence, leading all Oilers’ D-men in hits with 16, and his most aesthetically pleasing check was in Game 5 on Trevor Moore, upending the Kings forward.

The Oiler Affirms Himself Daily to Become a Stanley Cup Champion

Overall, Desharnais has been resilient throughout his journey, often being overlooked in his hockey career. Despite being drafted as a seventh-round pick, he has defied the odds to become an NHL regular who’s making an impact in the playoffs. Most recently, before the postseason started, he was nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.

His confidence is growing, and as mentioned, he puts in effort to mentally prepare for games. Before the season began, he appeared on a podcast and talked about his lousy playoff outing last season and mentioned how journaling has helped clear his mind, and said:

“I started doing meditation. I started reading and [writing] in this journal — the amount of things that are in there, that help me out, that help me clear my head, after games, after playoffs, [such as the] tough game against L.A., Game 4 I believe, tough game I played. I was so bad.

I left the ice so depressed, so in my head, anxious. ‘I can’t believe I almost cost the game, I [almost] cost the series.’ And then to stop, all that — the voice in your head that tells you you’re so bad, just, this journal, I’ve learned to use my tools and not get stuck in the cycle of ‘you’re bad.’”

Desharnais’ mindset seems to be in a good state now and his strategies are clearly working. He also noted that he writes daily affirmations in his journal, and this particular one that he writes will resonate well with Oilers’ fans, as he mentioned that he regularly jots down the phrase, “I am an NHL player, and I will win the Stanley Cup.”

For Oil Country’s sake, let’s hope Desharnais’ daily affirmation becomes a reality.

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