Monday, 24 November 2014

David Desharnais, Lars Eller and the Canadiens' #1 centre.

A common theme in hockey discussions is the eye test vs. analytics. One eye-test that jumped out at me was a 5-on-5 sequence last night during which David Desharnais and I think some mismatched wingers were forechecking and cycling the puck in the Rangers’ zone, for what seemed like a minute, to the point where they used the opportunity to do a flying line change. First the d-men changed, but eventually David swapped with Lars, who touched the puck once, gave it away, and the sequence was over.

I don’t hate Lars, and I can recognize that David has some deficits and gaps in his game, but David can do some things that Lars can’t right now.

I was struck by how on Max’s second goal against the Blues, David made a perfect pass on that play. By this I don’t even mean that it was ‘tape-to-tape’, but how he stood at the blue line in the offensive zone as an option for P.K., with his back to the wall, eyes scanning for Max. When he got the puck, he waited for the right lane to Max to open between backcheckers, and then passed the puck with his whole body, driving with the legs, and pushing the puck with his shoulders. He didn’t just flick it with his wrists.

It was noteworthy to me, how the pass wasn’t just a last-minute “Here, let’s try this” kind of move, but obviously what he saw happening a couple seconds ahead of time at least, and he had time to deliver it. His pass was perfect in the way a golfer will address the ball and take a strong backswing and follow-through compared to a duffer, or guys will flip a football during a Grey Cup or Super Bowl party in a living room, all wrist, compared to an NFL quarterback stepping into a throw.

I’ve made the comparison before of David to a scrappy scrum half, one who doesn’t have a lot of size or speed, but is amazing with ball distribution and thinking the game. He’s not much use tackling when defending the try line, when making a stand, or conversely when trying to punch it over himself, but he’ll be great at managing the game, giving great ball to the right guy at the exact right time.

When I had the ball, I had two settings. One would be to run over the nearest tackler, or bury the ball and try to post it for (hopefully) my support, or get rid of it, as quick as possible, to the nearest guy in the right colour jersey, whoever he was. But quick.

Meanwhile, a good scrum half will know which players to pass to and when. A good scrum half would never pass me the ball unless we were near the try line, and two or three yards were valuable. In the open field, they’d look for better options, or better, already know where these players are in their mind’s eye, they know where to look for them before they look for them.

So yeah, Lars has size and has been scoring the last few games, but in our haste to crown him we shouldn’t downplay David’s considerable gifts and talent.

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