The New York Rangers brought in David Desharnais to fill a void down the middle in the bottom-six, with a one-year, $1 million contract. They were lacking center depth after their third line center Kevin Hayes was promoted to pivot the second line and fourth line center Oscar Lindberg was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
He was a low-risk signing that at least in theory, could fit their needs. The most noticeable problem in that, was that both Hayes and Lindberg were two-way players that were able to play in defensive roles. Desharnais, while skilled, isn’t as defensively inclined and wouldn’t be an exact replacement for what was lost.
Desharnais, on the surface, did fill the role, with 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 71 games played. But he’s comparable to a student that gets the right answer, but doesn’t always show his work — and when he does show his work, sometimes it’s better off just looking back to the surface-level answer, his points.
His average 5-on-5 ice time of 11.36 was just ahead of others that spent time on the fourth line, including Peter Holland, Vinni Lettieri, Paul Carey, Boo Nieves, and Cody McLeod. Despite that low ice time, he still scored 21 of his 28 points at 5-on-5, at a rate of 1.56 per 60. When looking at just that production and his playing time, he looks like a player that was slightly underused.
That is, until you look deeper at his play this season. The Rangers took less than 43 percent of the shot share with Desharnais on the ice at 5-on-5, which was below average relative to his teammates at minus-3.67, and they were expected to score less than 44 percent of the goals (minus-3.99 relative). And, they conceded more than 62 percent of the goals when he was deployed (minus-7.1 relative).
What makes these numbers even more concerning was the fact that he didn’t play in the most challenging bottom-six minutes; he started most of his shifts in the offensive zone and the least in the defensive zone. And it wasn’t as if he was stuck on lines void of talent all season — he spent time between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey and J.T. Miller, Vesey and Carey, Vesey and Buchnevich, and lastly, 51 minutes with McLeod and Carey. Besides in that last combination, he actually had skill on his wings. But not one of these combinations even reached a 45 percent Corsi, and all besides the line with Kreider and Buchnevich, had a goals for that ranged between 25 percent and 37 percent.
When Desharnais was tapped to fill in for Mika Zibanejad on the KZB line (in an effort to keep the rest of the lines in tact), that first line spent more than 101 5-on-5 minutes together. While the Rangers only took 41.75 percent of the shot share and were only expected to score 44.89 percent of the goals with this line on the ice, they actually scored 71.43 percent. The KZB line, on the other hand, earned a 56.51 percent Corsi, 47.06 percent goals for, and 58.87 percent expected goals.
On the surface, the line with Desharnais had success, but their underlying numbers took a hit and those are actually more indicative of their play than just the number of goals they collected. They weren’t driving play and were incredibly lucky to have scored as much as they did. Plus, his presence on their line diminished the underlying numbers of both Kreider and Buchnevich.
Desharnais is a skilled bottom-six center, and he showed that with his 28 points. But there were weaknesses to his game that were clear early on in the season. Maybe more should have been done to remedy it, such as using him with linemates who had more defensive upside like Michael Grabner (who he spent just over 37 5-on-5 minutes with). And that wasn’t the only issue with his usage, his power play time was another. While he earned seven points on the man advantage, he wasn’t exactly a game changer in that role, and he actually played more power play minutes than Kevin Hayes, who has more offensive upside. That’s less on him though, and more on the coaching staff.
The Rangers needed centers, and Desharnais was a low-risk, inexpensive option for them. On the surface, his production was just fine, but his play wasn’t otherwise too encouraging. A bottom-six center’s play doesn’t have to be inspiring and that was likely even more challenging on a team with as weak defensively as the Rangers, but he wasn’t much more than a stopgap until they replenished their center depth.
*5v5 data via Corsica.hockey
2018 Report Cards: Marc Staal / Mats Zuccarello / Ryan Spooner / Rob O’Gara / Jimmy Vesey / Brendan Smith / Vladislav Namestnikov / Brady Skjei / Steven Kampfer / Jesper Fast / Alexandar Georgiev / Pavel Buchnevich / Ondrej Pavelec / Kevin Hayes / Mika Zibanejad / Alain Vigneault / John Gilmour / Ryan McDonagh / Neal Pionk / Ryan Sproul / Kevin Shattenkirk / Chris Kreider / Jeff Gorton I / Jeff Gorton II / Tony DeAngelo