EDMONTON — When he was at Providence College, Vincent Desharnais looked up to Zdeno Chara, hoping one day to be as big a net-front force as the Bruins’ Big Zee. Today, in his wildest dreams, he is Colton Parayko, without quite as silky a stride.
Go ahead. Laugh.
But, just 36 games into his NHL career — despite a birth certificate that reads May 29, 1996 — how do we know how valuable a defenceman Desharnais could become? At six-foot-six, with a wing span of a small executive airplane and a willingness to do whatever is needed, perhaps he is exactly what the Edmonton Oilers need as they move to a new zone defence, hell bent on lowering their goals against.
“It’s not sexy,” Desharnais says of his playing style. “But I get the job done.”
Meet the Oilers defenceman who nobody ever talks about.
We dote on Philip Broberg because he’s a Swedish first-round pick who skates on air, and we talk about Darnell Nurse because he makes all that money and plays all those minutes. And Evan Bouchard? We talk about him all the time, with his big shot and his role as a power-play QB.
If Mattias Ekholm is a Viking, then Desharnais is more like Shrek. Big, not entirely mobile, and the guy who some believe will start the season as the seventh defenceman.
“That’s everywhere I’ve been,” he laughed on Friday morning, before the Oilers would steal a 2-1 pre-season overtime win over the Calgary Flames in southern Alberta. “Everywhere, I’ve started as the seventh D-man or eighth D-man. In college I was the ninth guy when I showed up. And every time it’s like, ‘Whoa, that guy is tall!’ Like, ‘There’s something we can do with him, but it’s going to take time.’”
Same deal here in Edmonton, where Desharnais arrived last season as a call-up and never really went back down.
“So for myself, it’s been the same mentality: be patient, work hard, and it’s going to come. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve climbed up the ladder and ended up being a top pairing D-man.
“It’s taken me a little bit of time to prove that I’m not just tall — I can actually play hockey.”
Jack Campbell was outstanding Friday, stopping 33 pucks in the loss. Bragg Creek, Alta., native Dylan Holloway scored and was Edmonton’s best player while playing in front of family and friends at the Saddledome. As for Desharnais, he put in his 18:10 minutes of unvarnished ice time and hopped on the plane for Edmonton while several others overnighted in Calgary, bound Saturday for the AHL team in Bakersfield.
“I don’t need to get a pat on the on the back every time I do something well. It was never like that for me,” said Desharnais, who had some rough shifts in last spring’s playoff run.
One of the more happy-go-lucky NHLers you’ll ever meet, the pressure got to Desharnais a bit during the tense games last spring.
“I focused a lot on the pressure more. I feel like I was not as focused on having fun — even though it was the playoffs. You can still have fun, even though it’s more serious.”
So he sought out a sports psychologist and spent some time at a pair of yoga retreats.
“Just kind of managing the pressure I put on myself,” he explained. “That’s something I worked on this summer — trying to control my emotions.”
One of his yoga retreats, just outside of Montreal, included a 24-hour silence period.
“It’s really like, you against you. No phone, no technology, no TV… Nothing. It’s hard because I love to talk.”
So all of this self-improvement… How does it make him a better defenceman this season?
“Consistency,” he declares. “The difference between a bad game and four bad games. That’s where it is.
“It’s okay to have a bad game. It happens to everybody. But you want the bad game to be behind you, and you want to be able to put five, six, seven, 10 games in a row where you’re playing well.
“I know I won’t score 30 goals. I’ll know my job is just to be consistent day in and day out and do my job. That’s what they expect me to do. That’s what I’m going to do.”