BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The reason the Rangers seem so shallow at center is because it’s hard to know what they’re going to get from 31-year-old free-agent signee David Desharnais.
But coach Alain Vigneault said he knows what he hopes to get, and that is a third-line center the Rangers so desperately need.
“At that time when we signed him, on our depth chart he was No. 3,” Vigneault said about the one-year, $1 million deal they gave Desharnais over the summer, putting him behind Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad on the depth chart after the team traded their de facto No. 1 pivot, Derek Stepan, to the Coyotes.
“Depending on where you put Kevin or Mika, depending on who’s playing better, he was third or was fighting those guys for ice time,” Vigneault said. “A few years ago, this was a guy that was getting 50 points, and that’s a pretty good player.”
Desharnais had his best statistical season in 2011-12, when he scored 16 goals and totaled 60 points. He also had a pretty good run in 2013-14, when he put up 52 points and was a steady player down the middle for the Canadiens. Montreal faced the Rangers that season in the Eastern Conference final, won by the Blueshirts before they lost in the Stanley Cup final to the Kings.
But Desharnais suffered a few injuries in the years since, and his production dropped off dramatically. This past season, he and his expiring contract were traded to the Oilers, where he hardly could crack the lineup as a regular and finished 18 games with Edmonton with just two goals and four points.David Desharnais skates against the Rangers last season.Anthony J. Causi
Vigneault said there were a few teams interested in Desharnais over the summer, but the options weren’t plentiful. The Rangers are hoping he is inspired to get his career back on track. It started with a stellar preseason debut when he scored in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Devils, and continued with another stellar performance Friday night, when he centered a line between Matt Puempel and Adam Tambellini in the Rangers’ 2-1 loss to the Islanders at Webster Bank Arena.
“Sometimes you catch a player at the right time,” Vigneault said. “We might be catching this young man at a right time.”
Desharnais has found a way to carve out a career despite being just 5-foot-7 and not having been drafted after the native of Quebec played in the QMJHL for four seasons. He saw an opportunity with the Rangers, and he jumped.
“There’s two really good centers, but after that, it’s going to be a battle,” Desharnais told The Post. “I know what I can do, I know what I can bring. Just need to go out there and show it.”
He also knows this organization well having played them so often, and with Henrik Lundqvist in goal, finds it not too dissimilar to his situation in Montreal with the terrific Carey Price in nets.
“It’s always a team that is in the playoffs, always a contender,” he said. “With obviously a good goalie like that, anything is possible. Play well in front of him, it makes it easier on him and easier on us. I think that’s the key.”
Playing well in front of Lundqvist is going to be largely determined by what kind of play the Rangers get from their centers. It has been made very clear the organization is expecting big improvements from Hayes and Zibanejad, but they’re also relying on a bounce-back year from Desharnais to give them some much-needed depth.
“I liked the dimension that he brought,” Vigneault said. “He’s going to get another opportunity and should be good for us.”
Source : http://nypost.com/2017/09/23/rangers-seeing-signs-they-nabbed-new-center-at-right-time/