2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 13 C David Desharnais
Third-line centre was a position of weakness for the Edmonton Oilers for most of 2016-17, and at the trade deadline the team decided to go looking for outside help. It’s always difficult to find help down the middle at midseason, and generally expensive, too.
Edmonton settled on pending free agent David Desharnais, an undersized but competitive pivot who had fallen into disfavor in Montreal. In exchange, the team drew from its stockpile of left-shooting defenceman, sending Brandon Davidson to the Canadiens. It was clearly a trade aimed at the present, as we noted at the time:
This is a reasonable deal from a rental perspective in that it makes the Oilers better today. In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that a pending UFA Desharnais is a superior asset to an NHL team than a signed 25-year-old Davidson, but sometimes the short-term boost is worth giving up the superior asset. It is, in short, a deal that makes sense for both teams. It just happens to be one that works more in Montreal’s favour than it does in Edmonton’s.
Davidson was in and out of the lineup with Montreal over the rest of 2016-17. Desharnais was a fixture in the Oilers’ forward rotation the rest of the way, though it sometimes felt like he wasn’t playing. The key difference is that Davidson still has some value (either as a third-pair defenceman or as expansion bait) while Desharnais will almost certainly be allowed to depart via free agency.
In his time with the team, Desharnais mostly played soft minutes and centered a line that didn’t generate much offence and didn’t keep the puck in the opposition zone. He had eight points in 31 combined regular season/playoff games and his forward unit was routinely out-shot by the opposition. He did good work in the faceoff circle but otherwise steadily worked his way down Edmonton’s 5-on-5 lineup and didn’t participate on special teams.
One game stands out as an exception to Desharnais’ unremarkable tenure with the Oilers: Game 5 in the team’s first-round series against the San Jose Sharks. With the Oilers down 3-2 in the dying minutes of the third period, it was Desharnais who teed the puck up for Oscar Klefbom’s game-tying blast. Desharnais then snuck past Tomas Hertl and into the slot to score the overtime winner.
Those few brilliant shifts came at a critical moment in that series, and helped guarantee the Oilers advancement to the second round. As disappointing as Desharnais’ overall work in Edmonton was, plenty of the team’s past deadline additions have never had a moment quite so memorable or important.
Bottom line: Playoff heroics aside, Desharnais was brought in to stabilize Edmonton’s third line. He failed in that task and it’s unlikely that he’ll be returning to the team.
Previous year-end reviews:
- Griffin Reinhart’s time in Edmonton may be finished before it even really begins
- Adam Larsson is a long-term solution to a longstanding Oilers weakness
- Edmonton may just be stuck paying Mark Fayne for another year
- Should the Oilers give Kris Russell a long contract extension?
- Andrej Sekera brings much-needed versatility and experience to a young Edmonton blue line
- Laurent Brossoit could be the perfect backup for the Oilers, if he survives expansion