Phillip Danault got a taste of a Stanley Cup run last season with the Blackhawks.
The 22-year-old center was one of the Black Aces here through the postseason run. He saw what the Blackhawks did once again. He knew there would be roster changes with the salary-cap crunch. And he knew he had a great opportunity to make the lineup out of training camp.
But Danault’s plans were derailed in August, when he needed hip surgery four months to heal from it. But instead of letting that frustrate him, Danault used his time and attitude wisely. Now, with another teammate facing a four-month recovery, Danault is getting his chance.
Danault made a good impression on coach Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks in two games last season, and he’s doing it again in his current stint. Danault was recalled last weekend after the Blackhawks lost Marcus Kruger to a dislocated wrist — Kruger’s surgery and recovery will keep him out until probably the postseason. So who better to call up than the guy the Blackhawks have been grooming as, perhaps, the next Kruger?
“You know, they’ve been telling me they want me to be Kruger the last two years in the AHL, so I kind of modeled my game on his,” said Danault, referring to the Rockford IceHogs. “He got hurt and I got lucky to be called up. I have a big opportunity here. I want to show everyone I can do it.”
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Ryan Garbutt said he noticed how much Danault was like Kruger immediately.
“It was a little bit eerie the way he plays so similar to Krugs. He does all the small things really well,” Garbutt said. “He’s good on face-offs, fast, really good with the stick and I think Q trusts him out there.”
Quenneville’s trust in Danault was evident on Tuesday night, when he put Danault and fourth-line mates Andrew Desjardins and Garbutt against the Stars’ top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp through the first two periods. Danault and the line did its job, keeping all three off the score sheet through the first 40 minutes — Sharp had an assist at the time, but it was off a power-play goal. Quenneville was happy with that line’s work on Tuesday, and figured Danault, even with his setback, would be up here at some point.
“We feel, [with] him improving that he’d find a way to get here because we think the way he works, the way he competes, his mindset,” Quenneville said recently. “He gives you energy in your team game; production-wise, the expectations aren’t that high. But at the same time, playing the right way is what we think he can do. And kind of the way we have certain players in our lineup that can kill penalties and check and have the puck and be supportive in that area, so we projected him to keep on this path, that he’d find a way to get here.”
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Danault had hoped to be here sooner. But after getting a deeper MRI on an issue that had been bothering him, results showed he had a torn labrum. On Aug. 17 he had surgery and spent the next several months recovering. It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time.
“It was very tough, especially because they just won the Cup and I was part of it as a Black Ace. I tasted a little bit of what it was and I really wanted to be an NHL player right away. But obviously one step back sometimes is good.” Danault said. “You go back, think about your game mentally and get stronger. Those little details get you stronger on and off the ice. I’m happy with my situation right now.”
Danault waited a few years for a chance at the start of this season. Then he had to wait a few months more. It wasn’t always easy, but Danault is getting his chance now and he’s looking to make the most of it.
“When you start right away it’s good for your confidence and you’re happy and playing in the NHL is obviously the dream for you. But the last few years were very helpful for me,” Danault said. “I had to learn the system, how it works as a pro. Even just to cook by yourself or with the boys [in Rockford]. I think after those two years I’m more NHL ready.”