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'I want to win': Desharnais brings size, grit to Canucks' blue line


VANCOUVER — Before he put pen to paper on a contract with a new NHL team on Monday, Vincent Desharnais received a phone call.

On the line were Vancouver Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet and assistant bench boss Adam Foote.

The pair wanted to chat with the free agent about their coaching mentality, about what they saw in the big defenceman's game, and about where he could fit in Vancouver's lineup.

“Right away, the fact that they took the time to call me and introduce themselves, and to have a conversation with both coaches, I really appreciated that," Desharnais said on a video call Wednesday. "I just felt how professional the coaching staff was.”

Desharnais liked what he heard and signed a two-year, US$4-million contract with the Canucks.

The deal brings him to a team he saw close up during the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where his Edmonton Oilers bested the Canucks in a gritty, seven-game series.

“I’m very happy to join Vancouver," Desharnais said. "It’s been some great battles this year against them so it’s going to be nice to finally be on their side and not getting hit every time I go retrieve a puck.”

The six-foot-seven, 226-pound blueliner from Laval, Que., cemented his role as a full-time NHLer last season, contributing one goal and 10 assists with 54 penalty minutes in 78 games for the Oilers. He made 16 more appearances, putting up one assist and 22 penalty minutes, before Edmonton lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to the Florida Panthers.

Desharnais previously toiled in the minors, spending parts of four seasons with Edmonton's American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors.

Vancouver's front office believes the big defenceman hasn't yet hit his ceiling.

"We felt that there is even more upside," general manager Patrik Allvin said Monday. "He hasn't been in the league for a long time. I think with the coaches I have here in Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar, I believe they can help him get to the next level.”

Playing a consistent role for the Oilers last season gave Desharnais new confidence. Now he's looking to build on his skills, too.

"I do believe that I’ve got more in me. I’ve known it, I’ve realized it over the last season," he said.

“It’s going to be challenging, it won’t be easy, there’s going to be adversity. But I know I’m going to get a lot better. And I think I’ll be ready in playoffs to help the team go all the way.”

After signing Desharnais and six-foot-four former Boston Bruins defenceman Derek Forbort in free agency, the Canucks appear to have cornered the market on hulking defencemen. The duo joins a corps that already includes six-foot-eight Tyler Myers and six-foot-five Carson Soucy. Asked Wednesday whether he'd ever been on a hockey team where he wasn't the tallest player, Desharnais chuckled.

“I will make sure I go next to Tyler to measure myself to make sure he’s not cheating," he said with a grin.

There's a movement across the NHL toward using taller, burlier defencemen, Desharnais added. And those players can bring more than just size.

"I think the big guys are getting better and better. It’s so hard to play against big guys," he said. "I think we take a lot of room away. And as a forward, the less room you have to manoeuvre, the harder it is.

"So I think (Vancouver's) going to be a very good d-core. We’re going to be hard to play against.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2024.