Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault lines up for a faceoff against Minnesota Wild’s Eric Staal. Photo credit: Allem Mcinnis/ Montreal Gazette
Phillip Danault has continued to improve his game every year with the Montreal Canadiens. He has seriously started to look like a first line centre. This season he has even put himself in conversation as a possible Selke Trophy candidate.
After last season, it is surprising that his game even went another step this year. He is currently tied for 28th as best centre in points, through 37 games this season. However, he is doing this with minimal power play time, unlike many of the other centre players who have the same amount of points.
Danault has only gotten one goal and three assists on the power play this season, so far. In fact, he got his only power play goal this past Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers. This is the opposite of teammate Max Domi, who has put up a goal and eight assists on the power play, which shows that Domi puts up a huge chunk of his points on the power-play. Danault is in fact 17th overall in the entire NHL, in even strength assists. It does help that his line mate, Brendan Gallagher, is ranked 5th in even strength goals. On the other hand, his other line mate, Tomas Tatar, has been a great contributor in that department too, and has been key in assisting with power-plays.
While Danault’s offensive game has improved, his defensive game has as well. Not only has his line been relied upon to provide offense for the Canadiens, but they are also a shutdown line. Danault and his line mates have been tasked with shutting down some of the league’s top lines. This includes shutting down the Boston Bruins top line earlier on November 5th this season, in a 5-4 win.
The only points that came from the Bruins top line was a David Pastrnak power-play goal. Danault was a big part in shutting down Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron that night. If it weren’t for his performance the Canadiens would have most likely lost the game. He may have not recorded any points but Danault’s impact was shown off the score sheet.
Phillip Danault has become more than capable of handling first-line minutes. Photo credit: Radio Canada
The thing is not all first line centres need to put up 80 points to be considered one. Look at guys, like Jonathan Toews and Ryan O’Reilly. These players produce 55-65 points per year and are considered top line centres for their two way game. In fact, Danault has two more points as Toews in as many games this season. His production is also aligning with the 55-65 points that those prominent two-way centres produce, as he is currently on pace for 65 points.
His face-offs and defensive game is also starting to align to the likes of Jonathan Toews and Ryan O’Reilly. Danault’s faceoff percentage currently ranks in the top 20 amongst players who have tackled 100 face-offs.
All the signs of the 26-year-old’s record and game point to him being a traditional defensive first line centre. Many nights, he does the little things right, often leading to a victory. Whether it is winning an important face-off or creating a goal with his line mates, Danault can do it all.
Each year that passes since acquiring Danault, Marc Bergevin looks more and more like a genius for pulling of this trade. As a reminder, he sent two rentals to Chicago for Danault and a second round pick in 2018 (Alexander Romanov).
It is time that Phillip Danault is recognized as a lower-end, top line centre in this league. He has a great two-way game, and is consistently putting up a good number of points. If Danault manages to be this type of player while primarily being used in defensive assignments, then how could he not be considered a first line centre with his recent play?