For a player who was passed over for the NHL draft and signed with the Canadiens as a free-agent, it didn’t take Desharnais long to prove he had what it took to compete at hockey’s highest level. Before the Quebec native was even called up from Hamilton to join the big club, his former Bulldogs’ teammates in Montreal were already heaping on the praise, with Max Pacioretty in particular attributing much of his recent AHL success to Desharnais’ skill as a playmaker.
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Desharnais would end the season as one of the Habs’ most pleasant surprises of 2010-11, scoring eight goals and adding 14 helpers for 22 points in 43 games with the Canadiens.
“I’m pretty happy with the way my season went. When they called me up, I knew it was the chance I had been waiting for and I knew I had to make the most of it,” expressed the Canadiens’ No. 58, who at times drew comparisons to small-statured superstars the likes of Martin St. Louis and Brian Gionta over the course of the season. “I feel good with what I ended up accomplishing. I took a big step this year.”
Beyond simply putting up good numbers in his first campaign with the Canadiens, Desharnais’ dedication and work-ethic made for consistent improvement that helped earn him the trust of head-coach Jacques Martin, resulting in increased ice-time and responsibilities for the 24-year-old.
Desharnais’ season ultimately came to an end two games before the rest of his team, when a knee-injury sustained in overtime of Game 5 against the Bruins shelved the 5-foot-7, 177 lbs center for the final two games of the series.
“There’s obviously never a good time for something like that to happen, but it made it even tougher since things were going well playing with Gionta and Gomez at the time. It was overtime, we all knew how important it was – I just wasn’t able to finish the game,” admitted Desharnais, who despite the less than ideal ending, can walk away from his rookie season, head held high.
“I think I succeeded in proving to a lot of people that I’m capable of doing well in this league, and at the same time, it felt good to prove it to myself as well.”
Desharnais will have the summer to heal – and to work on getting himself a new contract for the 2011-12 season. With any luck, he shouldn’t have much trouble doing either.
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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