|Phillip Danault, born and raised in Victoriaville, Quebec, leads the Tigres with nine goals and 11 assists in 12 games, but his influence extends far beyond the stat sheet (Photo by Aaron Bell / CHL Images).
A 20-year-old kid puts on the jersey of his hometown team with the ‘C’ placed proudly on his chest and steps out on the ice in front of thousands of fans who are all wearing the same colors, who all know his face. Among the expectations placed on his still-developing shoulders: winning faceoffs, shutting down the enemy’s top line and scoring important goals. It’s a lot of pressure.
“First of all, I love pressure,” says Phillip Danault, the 20-year-old in question. “Pressure doesn’t matter to me when I’m playing in front of 3,000 fans every night.”
But you’re the face, the heart and the soul of the team—the captain. “The captaincy doesn’t add more pressure,” he insists. And so far, his stat line corroborates that confidence; he’s averaging 1.67 points per game in the early days of the 2012-13 season.
Then again, Danault has had a bit of a head start getting used to all of the pressure. Victoriaville runs in his blood: Alain Danault, Phillip’s father, was the team’s public announcer from 1987 to 2006, and Phillip practically grew up in the Colisée Desjardins, the Tigres’ home rink.
Now a Tigre himself, Danault is still doing some growing, both into his frame and into a more vocal leader—“Everyone listens to me more this year because I’m older,” he claims—but he had an early start on that, too. Danault was appointed captain of the Victoriaville Tigres at age 17, midway through his first full season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after being drafted ninth overall in 2009.
“It’s tough when you get a captain’s role when you’re 17 and other players [on the team] are 20 years-old, but back then he was more of a player who sets an example to follow on the ice,” says Victoriaville Head Coach Yanick Jean. “Now he’s more of an all-around captain.”
Danault’s quiet confidence at both ends of the ice and do-it-all skill set are only two of the reasons why the Blackhawks selected him 26th overall in the 2011 Entry Draft. Inconsistency affected the first half of his post-draft campaign, and he admits his mind had drifted 1,000 miles southwest, to the place where he hopes to play in the near future.
“In the first half, I was thinking more about Chicago than my team, so when I signed [an entry-level contract last December], it gave me a little boost,” Danault says. “After Christmas, I had a good second half of the season.”
The high-scoring Victoriaville squad made the 2012 QMJHL postseason comfortably as the fourth seed, only to be swept by the 13th-ranked Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the first round. Danault led his team with three assists, but failed to dent the net in four contests. Afterward, he landed in Rockford for the IceHogs’ final seven games of the season, before attending his second Blackhawks Prospect Camp in July and then honing his defensive game on Team Canada’s checking line at the Canada-Russia Challenge in August.
Danault has played a lot of hockey this year, and his nonstop work ethic is starting to pay off. While his point production was always noticeable in the offense-happy QMJHL, he’s gotten to a screaming start this season: 20 points (9G, 11A) in his first 12 games of the season, pacing the Tigres and ranking seventh in the league as of Oct. 17.
Danault also got some small measure of revenge against Baie-Comeau on Sept. 29, registering a hat trick on a four-point night against the Drakkar in front of his home crowd—on the power play in the first period, at even strength in the middle frame, and finally, in the final period, a shorthanded tally. A vintage all-around performance.
“His shot has improved dramatically over the last year, so he’s shooting more, and the puck is finding the back of the net,” Jean says of Danault’s quick start.
Jean has overseen Danault’s growth from the beginning and has witnessed his 62 goals and 124 assists in 199 games over three-plus seasons. For him, Danault’s progression has been a natural consequence of his unrelenting work ethic and infectious dedication to the game.
“When you have leaders like him, it’s easy for younger guys to follow. Coaches don’t have to talk much: Make sure you follow this guy, make sure you play the same way this guy does. Plus, he plays really well on both sides of the ice. It’s good to have a guy who can produce offensively, but you can also count on him playing against other teams’ top lines and playing on the penalty kill.”
“I’ll work hard every shift, be a two-way player, good defensively and hot offensively, have a great year and go far in the playoffs,” Danault says, when asked what he hopes to accomplish the rest of the season.
On Friday evening, Danault will play in his 200th game in the Q, against the 9-1 Quebec Remparts, in front of a familiar sea of faces at the Colisée Desjardins. He’ll wear the C proudly, he’ll win faceoffs in all three zones, and he might score a goal or two. He’ll do it all.