Desharnais Plans to Push for More Minutes

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
11 months ago
The first thing Vincent Desharnais does when he starts his off-season training is make of list of the things he wants to work on. He outlines a strategy and sticks to it. It has helped him move from the ECHL to the AHL and finally make it to the NHL this past season. The 6’6, 215 pound right-shot defender turns 27 on May 29th, and he has big plans for this 27th year on Earth.
Desharnais is one of the most open, honest players I’ve spoken with in my 22 years covering the NHL. He’s a naturally positive person. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he isn’t afraid to share how he feels. He radiates energy. When you speak with him, he gets fired up, either laughing or explaining his point of view and he’s bluntly honest. It is refreshing.
On Tuesday, when the Oilers players had their final media day, and the leaders of the team took their turns at the podium, I met with Desharnais in a hallway to recap his year and get an understanding of his plans for the off-season. Desharnais was the most unexpected story of the season for the Oilers.
The season began horribly for Desharnais.
He sustained a wrist injury in conditioning skates right before training camp, didn’t play a preseason game and missed the first few weeks of the AHL season. He played his first game for Bakersfield on November 2nd. He played five games and was injured again. He returned December 17th and played eight more games before being recalled to the Oilers and made his NHL debut on January 11th in Anaheim. It was an emotional few days for the seventh-round pick in 2016. His parents flew in to watch the game, and when he called his brother, his biggest supporter, he got two words out before he started crying — happy tears, but mainly a release of many years of hard work finally being realized.
It took six-and-a-half years after being drafted in June of 2016 to finally reach the NHL, but Desharnais made it, and five months later, his main goal is to not only stick in the NHL, but to keep improving and push his way up the lineup.
Desharnais had a solid 36 regular season games. He averaged just under 14 minutes/game, had four assists, and finished +15. He was on the ice for two goals against at 5×5 in a game once, against the Winnipeg Jets. Like most rookies, he had some ups and downs, but overall, his play was solid.
In the first round of the playoffs, he was decent in the first three games, but he had a rough first period, was on the ice for two goals 5×5, and another on the penalty kill. He ended up playing a few shifts in the second period before sitting out the rest of the game. He rebounded in games five and six but had another rough game one v. Vegas. But after trying to force a pass early in game one through a forechecker, Desharnais didn’t let it phase him and he wasn’t on the ice for a goal against at 5×5 in games two to six.
It was an emotional month of playoff hockey. I asked Desharnais about his playoff experience and his plans for the off-season.
Jason Gregor: Now that you’ve experienced the NHL and the playoffs, what will be your main focus in the off-season?
Vinny Desharnais: I feel at this point it’s all about details, right? Once you get to the league you realize everyone is good. Everyone can skate, everyone has a good stick and it’s just the small details that you can improve. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to do something else and just get hockey off of my mind. But when I return and start focusing on hockey, I’m going to watch a lot of videos as I want to see some patterns that I’ve been doing.
Obviously, I want to improve my puck play. I thought I got better as the season went on, and even in the playoffs, it got better, but as a big man, it’s always a little bit more of a struggle. It’s something that I really want to improve on because I want to be reliable and I want my teammates to trust me, the coaching staff to trust me in every situation.
And I would say my feet, I mean it’s always something that I have to work on. I think for a big man I can move pretty well, but it’s, I’ve got to improve, I’ve got to keep up because this league is getting quicker and quicker every season. Every year you see it, you show up at camp and guys are faster and so I want to keep up. I want to play in this league for more years. I want to be here. I know I can play. I know I can help this team win and bottom line I want to do anything I can to get better, improve on some details. When training camp starts, I’ll be ready. The bottom line is that I’m here to win. I want to win. I’ll do anything I can to improve and win next year.
Apr 11, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Vincent Desharnais (73) passes the puck in the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Gregor: You mentioned the puck skills, that’s the next evolution, especially for today’s NHL defenceman. Recently many players have hired a skills coach, and really focus on that. Is that an area that you will look at and just spend more time on the ice enhancing your puck skills?
Desharnais: I have a skills coach, Dan Jacob. I’ve been working with him for a few years and that’s where I think I got a lot better. That was the biggest thing that I changed, and I noticed a huge difference when we started working on some details and started working on not just passing the puck, but more game-like situations and more repetitions. The more you do it the better you get.
Personally, I’m not a big believer in just doing drills 100 times, and at some point, you’re going to get it. I’m more of a, I like to work on game-like situations and something that’s kind of tangible, something that you can see is going to make a huge difference. I try to improve every part of my game, but as you say puck skills is a big thing for me and I’ve been working at it quite a bit. I’ve improved it but it’s got to get better. It will. I know how I work. I’m a hard worker and I always like to write a list before the summer training starts, just some stuff that I want to improve on, and have a team around me — skills coach, strength coach, and a nutritionist — and I’ll make sure that everyone is on the same page and I’ll come back next season, I’ll be a better player and hopefully I can help the team win.
Gregor: Your mental fortitude was challenged in the playoffs. There is more pressure. You didn’t like your game four in LA and you got sat down, but then you bounced back for game five and six. Game one against Vegas, the whole team, including yourself, didn’t love it, but then you weren’t on the ice for a goal against at 5×5 in games two through six. How much did you learn about yourself and your ability to bounce back in key times?
Desharnais: Yeah that was big, it was challenging. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty hard. You think things are going well in the first couple of games against LA, things are going well and then the next thing you know, boom! You almost cost a game and it was in the first period. It was one of the worst periods I had played and how do you come back from that? And honestly, the biggest thing is just the guys around came to see me. I’ve mentioned it to you on the radio that [Mattias] Ekholm came to talk to me. When a guy like that comes to talk to you… and the thing that he told me is, ‘It is okay, I’ve been there. You’re going to get so much better just from going through that.’ And I think that was my biggest thing: Instead of seeing it in a negative way, I was just trying to see it in a positive way as in it’s over and I can’t go back.
I can feel as bad as I want, I can’t go back, I can learn from them, I can see it in a positive way. It’s great, I’m getting better. By making those mistakes I’m learning, I’m not going to make those mistakes again, I’ll be ready. The first game in Vegas, I tried to make that play through a player and it was a bad play, we got scored on. The rest of the game wasn’t great. I did it [rebounded] myself because I’d learned from the previous series, I know what it is, it sucks, it happened, but nothing I can do about it. I’ve got to learn, I’ve got to enjoy, I’ve got to enjoy that feeling. It sucks, but I’ve got to enjoy it. It’s a part of it and you’ve just got to get better from it. And that’s what I think that I did. As the series went on, I felt more and more comfortable, I felt like I was making more plays, I was more physical.
So no, obviously the way that it [season] ended, I’m not happy about it, but I’m really happy that I got to go through those challenges because it made me a better player, a better person, and mentally it helped me to become better to deal with the media, to deal with the fans because everyone, you’re all pretty and you’re good and then you make one mistake and some media will say “Maybe you shouldn’t play next game.” Or the fans will text you “You suck, and we don’t want you here.” It’s all stuff that when things are going well you don’t see. The fans, the media, everyone was great to me, but the second that things don’t go so well, boom! You’re not good anymore. It was obviously a challenge, but I loved it.
I appreciate it and I’m excited for the next playoffs because I know what to expect now and I feel like I have baggage that helped me to know more. In those 12 games, I learned so much and I’ve seen, you look at guys like Ekky [Ekholm] and [Darnell] Nurse, those guys have been around and seen a lot. And the way that they play 25, 26 minutes, it’s impressive. I was happy to be able to learn from them.
Gregor: I got the sense talking to you all year that you are very proud of the work you put in, but I don’t think that you are satisfied at all. Now that you’re an NHL player, you go home for the summer, and you want to maintain your spot on the NHL roster. Before it was about you trying to get noticed. How does that change your mindset? Are you more motivated because you can watch videos of Vincent Desharnais, NHL player, not Vincent Desharnais AHL player?
Desharnais: I don’t think that it’s going to change anything in my training. But it’s a different mindset, a different motivation. Last year coming off of a good season and the biggest thing was that I just got an NHL contract, I wanted to show up and show what I could do. Now, they know what I can do. So right now, I want to show, and I want them to be, “Oh maybe he’s not our sixth defenseman, maybe he’s our fifth.” I know what I can do, I trust my skillset, and I know what I can bring to this team.
My biggest motivation after these playoffs ended is that I want to win a Cup. I’m going to be 27 years old, and I know that I won’t play for another 15 years, so, my biggest thing is that I want to win. That’s going to be my biggest motivation. I want to win. I want to win a Stanley Cup. So, every morning I’m going to wake up in the summer, I’m going to work out and I have to do more than I did last year. I think we all do. I think we all have to do a little bit more because we all want to win. So I’m actually very excited to get back to working out. I know what to do, I know what to do to stay here, to be here, so I’m pretty excited to actually do it.
Gregor: Don’t sell yourself short on playing 15 years, Zdeno Chara played into his 40s.
Desharnais: (Laughs). One year at a time, one year at a time.

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