The buzz after the Rangers signed free agent David Desharnais this summer was that the crafty center, who had spent nearly all of his career in Montreal, could be a bargain, given his experience and versatility.
Consider: Twenty-somethings Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes are moving up to the No. 1 and No. 2 slots at center, and winger J.T. Miller is starting in the middle of a third line.
A nifty playmaker with a career 50.5 faceoff percentage, the 31-year-old Desharnais brings depth and the ability to fill in up and down the lineup. “I’m going to do whatever I’m asked to,” the Quebec native said Wednesday morning. “I can play wherever I’m asked to. Obviously, you have to earn those spots with your play.”
Desharnais, who is 5-foot-7, battled Devils defenseman Andy Greene in the crease and deflected Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot past Cory Schneider in the second period for a goal in his first appearance as a Blueshirt on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. He also won eight of 15 faceoffs and played 18:54 in the Rangers’ 4-3 overtime win.
Talented 18-year-old Filip Chytil scored his second of the preseason with four seconds left in OT to win it.
An undrafted free agent, Desharnais joined the Canadiens in 2008 and stuck. He has posted 81 goals and 173 assists (254 points) in 453 games, all for the Habs except for four points with Edmonton, where he was traded late last season.
“He’s a veteran player trying to learn the system, understand the subtle little differences from where he played,” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “Versatility, being able to play more than one position, is a big bonus. A couple years ago he was a 50-point player [52 in 2013-14, and 48 in 2014-15]. He sees our middle, sees the opportunity he has and I think he’s excited about that.”
In those two seasons, Desharnais produced five goals and 21 assists on the power play, where he saw time on Wednesday. Desharnais, who signed a one-year, $1-million contract to come to New York, also centered a line with Matt Puempel and Daniel Catenacci.
Injuries hampered his last two seasons: a broken foot in 2015-16, and last season, Desharnais had three goals and nine points in 25 games before injuring his knee. He played just 31 games for Montreal before the trade.
This summer — and training camp — has been for a major adjustment for Desharnais, his wife Isabelle and new son Victor. “I’ve never gone through something like this, moving a family, travelling with two-month-old, but we like it here,” he said. “I used to just pick my bag out of my house in Montreal and head out.”
But the Rangers appealed to him for several reasons: “They are always competing for a Stanley Cup, always a contender, with a good core of guys and good goaltending.”