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Versatile Dandenault back where he started his NHL career - at forward

NHL.com @NHL

MONTREAL - When training camp opened last month, it wasn't certain that veteran defenceman Mathieu Dandenault still had a place in the Montreal Canadiens lineup.

But versatility paid off for the 31-year-old, who has reverted to the the position he played when he first entered the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings in 1994-95 - right wing.

"Since I started in the league, it's kind of been my claim to fame," Dandenault said Saturday. "For a coaching staff and an organization, it's good to have a guy who can play everywhere, in case there's injuries or whatever.

"It's good to rely on that rather than calling up a young guy from the minors. I've played a lot of games."

Actually, the Canadiens have two players who can play both defence and forward. Mark Streit, a career defenceman who played most of last season on left wing, has moved back to the blue line.

Coach Guy Carbonneau said Streit was strong in camp on defence and looked confident in his natural position. Also, the Swiss veteran has taken over the right point position on the power play previously held by Sheldon Souray, who left as a free agent for Edmonton.

Meanwhile, veteran Patrice Brisebois had rejoined the club as a free agent, but his health was a question mark coming off surgery last winter on a herniated disc in his back.

"We didn't know how he was going to react, so having Mathieu in the lineup gave us an option if Briser went down in a game," said Carbonneau. "But he's been playing well.

"He's been one of our best forwards. He's big, he's strong and he can skate."

The six-foot-one 204-pound Dandenault hasn't complained about being bumped from his position as Francis Bouillon's defence partner by Streit.

"Mark played great at forward last year and he's played solid this year on defence," the Sherbrooke, Que., native said. "I have no problem with that.

"He's a great player. I don't mind going up to forward. You get a chance to play and to score. It's a lot of fun, and there's a lot less responsibilities, that's for sure."

Dandenault had one goal in the team's first three games this season, after scoring two in 68 games as a defenceman in 2006-07.

Playing on the fourth line with Steve Begin and Kyle Chipchura, his ice-time is among the team's lowest, but is still a decent 11:11 per game.

Now the question is whether Dandenault will spend the entire season on the wing.

"It's too early to tell," he said. "People were making some comments even before training camp started, but I've been around long enough to know that you don't make up the lineup in September.

"And the lineup from October to April can be totally different. So much happens, with injuries and everything, that you really have to take it a day at a time and enjoy the moment."

The Red Wings drafted Dandenault in the second round in 1994 and he started out at forward, but on a team stacked with talent up front, he began the conversion to defence in his second NHL season.

After a few seasons of shuttling back and forth, he became a full-time blue-liner in his fifth year.

By then, he had been tutored by some of the league's best.

"I had (assistant coach) Dave Lewis working with me a lot, but from watching the (Nicklas) Lidstroms and (Paul) Coffeys and (Vladimir) Konstantinovs and (Viacheslav) Fetisovs, you learn," he said. "It was an opportunity for me to pick up as many pointers from them as I could and I did. Eventually, you have a base for your game and you work from there. It went well. We went on to win some championships."

But Dandenault is happy playing either position as long as he plays. He said it is taking time to readjust, particularly his body position to receive a passes in front of the net, but it's coming back.

"And it's more fun being around the other team's net than ours," he added.

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