SAN JOSE The biggest challenge for any first year NHL player is maintaining focus and energy over the grueling 82-game schedule.
Andrew Desjardins is no different. The undrafted rookie, who made the opening night roster after being far from a sure thing to do so in training camp, has had his ups and downs in his first full season in the pros. It began with a bang, when he scored two goals in a 6-3 opening night victory over Phoenix way back on Oct. 8.
It took 69 games the number on the back of his jersey for him to double that output, when he found the back of the net against Colorado in the second period on Monday. His fourth goal of the season turned out to be the game-winner, and was the third time in as many games that his line, along with Daniel Winnik and Tommy Wingels, found the scoresheet.
I thought Desis line was probably the best line all night, Joe Thornton said after the Sharks 5-1 win. They played hard, worked hard, and were always around the puck.
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Thats our job, get the momentum back and keep the momentum going, said Desjardins, who signed with the club as a free agent in June, 2010. Thats obviously what were trying to do. It seems like were turning over pucks and were doing the right things, so we just want to keep moving forward and doing those things.
The coaching staff likely aided Desjardins recent resurgence and drive at the beginning of the month. He was a healthy scratch for the first three games in March, and the thinking was that the rookie may have hit a wall and lost his spot in the lineup. After all, center Dominic Moore was brought in from Tampa Bay, and Michal Handzus, despite a disappointing season, still can provide a steady and veteran presence on many nights.
Todd McLellan thought Desjardins, who suffered a concussion against Columbus on Jan. 14 after a violent shot to the head from the Blue Jackets Dane Byers, needed a break.
It got away on him, and he got hurt at one point in Columbus with the elbow to the head, and I think from that point on, it took him a little while to get going again, McLellan said. He was reminded he was important but didnt play a few nights, and now hes giving us some of his best hockey of the season when we need it.
Desjardins reflected on his time spent watching from the sidelines as a healthy scratch.
It teaches you or shows you that you have to do the right things, and do them every night. It definitely puts you in your spot and makes you stronger, and to not take things for granted, I guess.
Although he missed two games after the head injury in mid-January, Desjardins was thrown right back into the fire when he returned. Ryane Clowe, Tommy Wingels and Marty Havlat were all out of the lineup, and McLellan decided to plug Desjardins on the wing of the Thornton line for a stretch. In fact, Desjardins played more than 10 minutes in each of his first seven games after the injury, recording four assists.
The coaching staffs belief in Desjardins helped the players confidence, too, according to McLellan.
Thats where his season really evolved. You could see that he got confident at that point and blossomed a little bit more, said the coach. He really believed that he belonged.
Now, hes showing why. Desjardins seems to have settled in with Wingels and Winnik since the former returned from an upper body injury three games ago, and the coach is rewarding that trio with more and more ice time. All three played more than 15 minutes in the win against Colorado.
Its too early for Desjardins to think about personal success or what hes achieved in his brief career so far, though.
Im never satisfied. Im always trying to grow, he said. It comes down to more of a team thing now, where its just the next few games. We have to just keep going at it.
I havent really thought of it at all on a personal level at this point. Usually I wait until the end of the year. Im just trying to focus on doing what I have to do and help the team win right now.
Spoken like a true veteran.