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A year in the life

Adversity helped Philip Danault grow as a player and a person last year.

by Joanie Godin @canadiensmtl / / Translated by Shauna Denis

MONTREAL -- Things have changed quite a bit for Philip Danault over the last year.

The 23-year-old has experienced his share of ups and downs in the past 365 days, but luckily for Danault, his 2016-17 season has been predominately filled with more of the former than the latter.

If someone had told him one year ago that today he would be one of the most consistent players on his childhood team, Danault probably wouldn't have believed it. In part, because at that moment he thought he would be spending his entire career as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, not to mention that he was still looking to rediscover his form after recovering from hip surgery the previous summer.

Then on February 26, he received a life-changing phone call.

"It was really weird. They called me one night just before the deadline to tell me I'd been traded. I wasn't expecting it at all," recalled Danault.

The Victoriaville native learned he was heading to Montreal - along with a second round pick in 2018 - in exchange for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.

"I was young and naïve. I thought I'd be playing in Chicago for a long time. Then that happened and it set me straight pretty fast," he continued.

As a member of the Blackhawks organization when they won their most recent Stanley Cup, in 2015, Danault imagined that he'd be hoisting that same trophy at the United Center in a Hawks jersey one day, as well. While the Canadiens are bona fide Cup contenders now, that wasn't necessarily the case when Danault first landed in Montreal.

"It was tough. We were losing a lot and it was tough on me mentally," admitted Danualt. "I wasn't fully there physically, either, because of my hip operation. I didn't have as much time to train as I had needed in the offseason. I felt like I wasn't able to show what I was capable of to my new team and that drove me crazy. It was rough. That was a roller coaster season full of emotions."

An offseason of grueling workouts in Quebec followed by a strong start to the season for both Danault and the team as a whole helped the shifty forward get his groove back.

"When things are going well on the ice, everything off the ice is great for me, too. I feel much better," he confirmed.

In that case, he has plenty to smile about these days. He had already scored more goals after 25 games this season (five) than he did all of last year (four). He also earned first star honors in two games, and second star status in another two. All in the first quarter of the campaign.

Maturing with age

When Danault discusses 2015-16, it's clear the past is already very much behind him. Last season, he was low key around his teammates in the room. This year is a different story.

"I was young last year - I still am -, but I'm trying to be more of a leader to help the team perform and win. But I also know I still have a lot to learn," said Danault.

While he may only be a few months older and wiser than he was when the season came to a close last April, Danault admits that the extra defensive responsibilities given to him by Michel Therrien played a role in making him a more mature player on the ice.

"When you make it to the NHL, it's different. I learned a lot from the guys in Chicago and from guys here, too. That gave me the experience to learn how to become a leader myself, and how to help the leadership group here," explained the Blackhawks' first round pick from 2011.

Danault added that with the addition of Shea Weber over the summer, the Canadiens' dressing room is starting to resemble that of the Blackhawks, who count leaders like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane among their ranks.

Looking back, he also credits his journey to becoming an NHLer - including his time in the American Hockey League - with helping prepare him for life in the big leagues.

"When I was 18, I wanted to play in the NHL right away. I was naïve and impatient. I needed to pay my dues and learn in the AHL so I could be ready when I finally made the jump. Even if just to learn how to cook for myself! If I had started in the NHL right away, it wouldn't have worked. I know it would have been tough mentally for me if I'd been sent down right away," confessed Danault.

He now considers himself fortunate to have spent two seasons apprenticing with the Rockford IceHogs.

"I succeeded. I earned a spot in the National Hockey League. This is where I always wanted to be, but I never thought it would happen this soon. I think I proved to everyone that I was capable of playing here and I want to continue doing that. My time in the AHL was huge for me," said Danault, adding that the confidence the Canadiens' coaches have shown they have in him have also helped him kick off 2016-17 on the right foot.

He may be where he's always wanted to be, but Danault isn't satisfied. In fact, being satisfied isn't something he's ever been wired for.

"I'm competitive in every aspect of my life. Even with my girlfriend - I don't even let her win very often," he joked.

She doesn't seem to mind. This year also marked an off-ice milestone for Danault, whose longtime girlfriend, Marie-Pierre, accepted his marriage proposal a few months back.

With a wedding on the docket for 2018, there will no doubt be even more changes in the year to come than there were over the last 365 days in Danault's world.

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