With that in mind, the 29-year-old has been hard at work back home in Quebec City for the last two months preparing himself for his eighth year in the big leagues. After putting up 11 goals and 29 points in 65 games during the 2015-16 campaign – and seeing his club fail to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2011-12 – Desharnais didn’t take too long of a break before getting back in training mode to try the right the wrongs of last season.
“I’ve been working out with the same trainer in Quebec City, [University of Laval strength and conditioning coach] Raymond Veillette, for something like 12 or 13 years now. I love the way he does things and his programs. I find that I improve every summer. I always come to training camp in good shape. When it comes time to head back to Montreal in September for camp, I know that I’ll be ready for a long season,” said Desharnais, who works out with teammates Phillip Danault, Mark Barberio, and fellow NHLers Antoine Vermette, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrice Bergeron, the de facto leader of the group.
Right now, Desharnais is training five days per week, and skating twice per week, too. His workouts typically take place on the campus of the University of Laval at the PEPS complex and at a local Les 3 Glaces facility as well. The Laurier-Station, QC native believes Veillette’s training methods provide the right mix of exercises and drills for the entire group to get the best out of their offseason regimen.
“It’s a lot of explosion and cardio work at the same time. It’s a little bit of everything. We’re trying to replicate a hockey shift, so the effort will be something like 30 to 45 seconds. Then, we’ll rest for two or three minutes, just like we would in a game situation. It’s very hockey-specific stuff. That’s what I like. We’ll even do the 400 steps sometimes at Cap-Blanc, and I also do some yoga. I work out hard, but I make sure that I'm well rested both mentally and physically. That's important,” explained Desharnais, who also thoroughly enjoys the interaction that comes with training in a group setting. “They’re all top-rated guys in the NHL, so we have a very, very good group. We all push each other. A guy like Bergeron always wants to take things to another level, so when you see that, it makes you want to do the same thing. We really work well together.”
Spending more and more time with Danault and Barberio, in particular, has been something Desharnais has appreciated with a new season on the horizon. It’s given the trio an opportunity to bond on a regular basis while getting their daily work in both on and off the ice.
“I’m getting to know Phillip a lot more now that he's with us. He’s a guy who’s dedicated to his work and he’s in very good shape. His conditioning is incredible. He wants to learn. That’s what I appreciate about him. You tell him something and he does it. He’ll be someone who can surprise a lot of people next season,” praised Desharnais, before sharing some additional kind words about another fellow Quebec native. “You see a guy like Mark, over the last few years he’s been up and down between the AHL and the NHL. With him signing his contract, it’s good for his confidence. He knows where he’ll be, with us. He’s a hard worker who wants to do well and has good skills. A lot like Markov, he makes you better when you’re on the ice with him.”
The Canadiens’ No. 51 is also eager to meet up with some of his new teammates who were acquired over the summer, all of whom will undoubtedly play an important role in the overall success of the team come the start of the season in mid-October.
“I played against Radulov in juniors in Quebec. There was a big rivalry between our two teams. He can change a game on his own and he can really help us. With Shaw, playing against him is like playing against a guy like Gallagher. He tires you out. He’s always in your face. He’s coming from a very good team and he knows how to win. Then, there’s Weber, and when you think about Team Canada and defense, that’s the guy who comes to mind. He’s so hard to play against, so physical, so old school, and he’s got an incredible shot,” said Desharnais, who is clearly pleased with general manager Marc Bergevin’s offseason pickups to date.
Desharnais admits to having a very good feeling about the Canadiens' new recruits. After everything that transpired between December 2015 and April 2016 – including his own 17-game absence due to a broken foot – the veteran centerman is eager to suit up with a clean slate and some fresh faces alongside him to right the ship as soon as possible.
“We try to forget last season quickly, but at the same time you have to reflect on what happened and make sure you learn from it. We definitely thought about it. In my case, consistency comes to mind. I have to be more consistent to help the team all year long and help to lift the team up when we’re down and struggling,” said Desharnais, who was held without a point for seven straight games on three separate occasions in 2015-16. “We don’t want it to happen again. We know what we’re capable of. The motivation is there. We don’t want to disappoint the fans, especially. There’s nothing like experiencing the playoffs in Montreal. We definitely want to get back there this year.”
And, the Canadiens will need Desharnais to be a steady force to do just that, regardless of which line he ends up centering. In short, his expectations for himself in 2016-17 are rather straightforward and precise.
“My personal goals go along with the role that I have to play on the team. My expectations being a first-liner were different than when I was a third-line player last season. I just want to be good in my role and play better than the previous year. That’s always been my top priority coming into any new season,” concluded Desharnais, who plans on remaining in Quebec City for the rest of the summer before returning to Montreal come the third week of September. “You can’t expect to put up 70 points on a third line. But, I look at a player like Nick Bonino on the Penguins. He put up 29 points on a third line in the regular season, and then exploded in the playoffs. He was very important to Pittsburgh's success. That’s what I want to be for this team.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
On the other side of the microphone with... Jose Theodore
Back to the future
New team, same objective