Top Edmonton Oilers prospect stories of 2023 — No. 2: The emergence of Vincent Desharnais

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Curlock
6 months ago
Without question, one of the best prospect story from the year 2023 was Vinny Desharnais. He’s a testament to his own perseverance and a perfect example of what can happen when a team creates a development plan for a player.
Desharnais was a seventh-round pick in the 2016 draft after having played two seasons in Providence of the NCAA. His game steadily improved in college, going from 2-1—3 and a minus-two in 32 games in his season after the draft to 5-8—13 and a whopping plus-22 games in his final collegiate season. The Oilers didn’t rush Desharnais professionally, opting to play him in the ECHL to start. It was a smart move, given the Oilers already had serious minutes invested in young prospects Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson and Dmitri Samorukov. It’s no coincidence that it was Dave Manson at the helm of this group and playing them heavily, which meant room for Desharnais to play enough minutes.
So he went to the Wichita Thunder and worked on his game. This is the first time I noticed a player with some capability. His skating was very challenged, but by the end of the season, you could see his footwork on his lateral mobility had really improved. He ended that season playing 31 games and registering no goals but 13 assists and a minus-9 rating.
The COVID season of 2020-21 was an odd development year for many. Desharnais was not one of them as when the AHL season fired up, he continued to develop. He registered 0-10—10 in 37 games with a plus-four with Bakersfield. He also had started to become relied upon heavily by Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson. He was playing very heavy penalty kill minutes and also was on closing out games when Bakersfield had the lead.
This led to the 2021-22 season when Vincent Desharnais blossomed into a real prospect. You could see it almost instantly early in the season. His passing had become so much more effective and he had a real knack of finding quick outlets in the middle of the ice that would send the Condors on the attack. His skating had improved dramatically in terms of his ability to transition. Finally, it was clear he had studied how to create offence because he started to join the attack routinely as a weakside defender. It all led to Desharnais putting up impressive totals. In 66 games, he went 5-22-27 and a very healthy plus 36 for the Condors. Desharnais was the most relied-upon defender by the Condors in all situations other than the powerplay. His plus-minus was first in all of the AHL.
When the Oilers recalled Desharnais, most thought it would be a short stint. However, Dave Tippett played him a healthy ten minutes per night. Then Desharnais blossomed when Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson got the call. That has just carried on under Kris Knoblauch. The big man is averaging over 14 minutes per night and carrying a heavy penalty kill load. His expected goals-against rate on the penalty kill is third best in the entire league, with players over 50 minutes on the penalty kill. His actual goals against are 67th, which is more about the goaltending than him, but that is still close to top-pairing penalty kill results. He’s even managed to chip in with his first NHL goal and has 4 points in 29 games after scoring 5 in 36 the prior season.
Where does Vinny Desharnais end up? Well, he gonna be richer next season as he is a UFA. What is certain is that he is a bottom-pairing NHL defender who can play top-pairing penalty kill minutes. A tremendous testament to the player, his work ethic and a fantastic development plan by the organization.
Be patient, play him lots and make sure he works on his craft seems like a good lesson for the organization and other prospects to learn from.

Top Edmonton Oilers prospect stories of 2023

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