Phillip Danault figured it was going to take a little time.
The Blackhawks center was brought up for the first time last season but was in Chicago briefly. Recalled again in December, Danault had a better chance to get acclimated.
“I told my dad I needed five-to-10 games to get used to the NHL,” Danault said. “The execution is way different and details are so different. It’s been a great chance for me. I’m glad to take it.”
It’s not a surprise that Danault has been up the entire time since he was recalled on Dec. 18, the day after the Blackhawks learned they’d be without Marcus Kruger (wrist) until the start of the postseason. Now, 24 games into this season, Danault has adjusted to the NHL and to his checking-line center role with the Blackhawks.
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“He’s done a great job for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He handled a big responsibility, takes a lot of defensive responsibilities and D-zone face-offs and sometimes you’re out there against top lines, a lot of starts in your own end and you’re expected to defend against top guys. We trusted him in that role right off the bat and that line has done a great job for us and everyone’s contributed in their own ways.”
It’s well known that the Blackhawks told Danault, when they drafted him, that they wanted him to be another Kruger. That wouldn’t be a problem for Danault, who said he’s been playing that two-way game since he was with the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The adjustments, however, had to come as he advanced through the ranks.
“All the small details, execution, moving your feet; you can’t stand in the corner without moving your feet and protecting the puck here. That’s the big difference,” Danault said. “I kept my game from juniors but to be good here, as much as you have juniors, you have to take a couple of more steps and then you’re ready. You also need a coach who trusts you in all situations and I’m lucky to have that.”
Quenneville trusts Danault and his linemates. He, Andrew Desjardins and Teuvo Teravainen have been together quite a while now (outside of a game or two in which Teravainen has played elsewhere when teammates have been out). Being part of the same trio has helped Danault’s NHL transition as well.
“It always takes time to get used to new linemates but we’ve been lucky to stay together and I think we’re playing great together and are very good defensively,” Danault said. “We bring offensive chances. The points aren’t coming but I don’t think that’s our job right now. [We have to] stay tight defensively and try to buzz in their zone as much as possible.”
Danault has a goal and four assists in his 24 games this season; a good part of that came in late December/early January, when that line was on a hot streak. In the 33 games he played before his injury, Kruger had one assist. Supplementary scoring isn’t the top priority for the checkers but it’s always welcome.
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Points aside, Danault has done the job the Blackhawks needed him to do in Kruger’s absence. He knew it was going to take some time to adjust to the NHL game. This season, he’s gotten the chance to do so.
“I’m modeling my game after Kruger because he’s obviously the best defensively and on the PK. So when I came here I just wanted to prove I could play two-way and bring some offense at the same time,” Danault said. “I think it’s part of my game right now.”