There were telling and not-so-telling antecedents to the four Elliot Desnoyers waves crashing into the Charlottetown Islanders' net on Nov. 6.
A week prior to the game, Desnoyers was held scoreless by Charlottetown. Two weeks prior, he had dumped four goals in one night onto the Cape Breton Eagles.
The Islanders knew well of Desnoyers; it didn't matter.
Like a nonstop force, the Flyers' prospect found a way to that desired net and deposited the puck in it four times. His second four-goal game gave the Halifax Mooseheads a 5-4 win over Charlottetown, which leads the QMJHL at 12-2-0.
Desnoyers' four-goal brilliance won't draw smoke from the highlight-reel machine. But it will draw high praise and big eyes from folks who work in the game, people that notice when an 18-year-old possesses (and embraces) a pro-like, net-seeking gusto.
"I do remember it," Islanders general manager and head coach Jim Hulton said Monday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I remember it well because any time you give up four goals to an opponent, it’s hard to forget. To me, the impressive part was we categorize them as all willpower goals. He goes to the dirty areas, the net front, he challenges defensemen to get him boxed out and we didn’t do a very good job that night.
"He takes pucks hard to the net; really, he plays the north-south pro game and I think that’s why whoever drafted him should get kudos because they had the vision to kind of see another layer of offense that he’s certainly producing right off the hop."
Before Desnoyers arrived to Halifax via a trade, he was overshadowed by playing a smaller role on an experienced Moncton Wildcats team that was atop the league with 101 points at 50-13-1 in 2019-20.
John Torchetti, who worked in the Wild organization under Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr when the two were in Minnesota, was Moncton's head coach and director of hockey operations for parts of last season and 2018-19. He gave Flahr an early tip on Desnoyers and the Flyers watched him closely on the scouting trail.
When the 2020 NHL draft finally rolled around in October, the Flyers traded their two seventh-round selections to move up into the fifth round, where they picked Desnoyers at 135th overall. With an assist from the early tip, the early rewards on Desnoyers have been nice for Flahr and the Flyers' amateur scouting staff.
“We knew he was a competitive kid that worked hard, he had a physical edge to him, but he was hidden in a really high-talented, veteran team in Moncton last year, so you didn’t really get to appreciate his playmaking or scoring ability," Hulton said. "But right from the get-go this season, he has been nothing less than dominating in our league. He has been tenacious and aggressive every game, and I think he’s really seizing the opportunity to be a top-end offensive player.”
Centering the Mooseheads' top line and playing alongside projected 2021 first-round pick Zachary L'Heureux, Desnoyers has taken off, scoring the QMJHL's third-most points with 25 through 16 games. With 12 goals, he's tied for third in the league after finishing with 11 last season over 61 games for Moncton.
In four matchups against Hulton's Islanders this season, Desnoyers has recorded six points (five goals, one assist), despite being blanked twice.
"A guy like that, you’re probably not going to shut him down every night, but you do try to limit the damage he’s going to do to you," Hulton said. "He’s got desire, willpower and the physical wherewithal to get to areas that, quite frankly, a lot of players don’t want to get to on a consistent basis. Every time we play him, we talk about that, we talk about having an awareness when he’s on the net and then particularly for a defenseman, be ready to engage physically to keep him from the front of the net because he’s very driven at what he does to get there.
"We should all take a page out of that book, that’s what we want a lot of our young players to do. It looks like he’s used the confidence of being an NHL pick to kind of fuel his game.”
Following the draft, Flahr commended Desnoyers for his "engine." The Flyers believed the 5-foot-11, 172-pound forward would start tapping into his skill and upside this season with greater opportunity in Halifax. Desnoyers has proven them wise so far and he's done so in the way he explained: not the flashiest, but with a nose for the net.
"I think everybody wants to have the fancy plays, especially the young kids coming in, it usually takes them a few years to acquire the art of simplicity I guess you could call it," Hulton said. "I think he learned a lot from … he had some really, really good players on that Moncton team last year, they looked poised and ready to contend for a league championship before COVID shut things down. He’s a smart kid; obviously I don’t know him that well, but he must be because he looks like he’s taken a lot of lessons in and applied them to his own game.
“I’m pretty sure he’s on everybody’s radar now. When you come out of the gate as hot as he’s been; he was kind of a high profile young player on a good Moncton team. Just everyone was figuring he was going to mature into that game, maybe not as quickly as he has right away this year. Sometimes at junior hockey you see accelerated levels of players coming in at 17 and 18, and when they go, they seem to go in a hurry. He certainly looks like he’s jumped to that next level consistently and probably will be a force to be reckoned with this year and next in our league.”
Desnoyers might project better as a winger at the pro level. His ability to play down the middle or along the wing should help his chances. It also won't hurt that he likes to do things that sometimes hurt.
“Yeah, hard to say this early in his career, but anybody that’s got the determination, the drive and the physical play, combining with the skill — a lot of times you’ll see one or the other; you’ll see a small, soft, skilled guy or a big guy who has some limited skill — but when you get guys that are willing to do both, those are the guys that usually find a way," Hulton, who has been an assistant at the NHL level, said. "Because he’s probably going to have to come in as a pro and play in an energy, checking role to start his career. He’s proven that he can do that on a good Moncton team, and then he’s also proven that when the opportunity arises, that he can provide offense, so if he can continue on and grow his confidence, he’s got a shot.”
Subscribe to and rate Flyers Talk