Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, AB – Defenceman Vincent Desharnais admits to having borne the burden of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a bit too heavily last season upon tasting NHL post-season hockey for the first time, saying there were too many thoughts and emotions going through his head.

But now, the Laval, QC product has a clear mind about the whole process of improving as a big league blueliner, along with the opportunity ahead for him and his Oilers teammates in the second round against the Vancouver Canucks if they can continue doing what made them successful in Round 1.

“Personally, I'm more comfortable,” Desharnais said. “I'm more confident. I don't think as much.

"I just play hockey, have fun and that's the biggest thing too – I can enjoy it more.”

The 27-year-old rearguard, with only 114 regular-season games of NHL experience and a further 17 in the playoffs, has been able to embrace the process a lot more this season, which has proven itself beneficial this spring, where his role of helping shut down opponents’ best lines and top-unit power plays has risen along with his average ice time – from 13:35 in 2023 to 17:20 in 2024.

The feeling of having the entirety of Oil Country on his back has felt a lot less heavy this time around, and that’s allowed him to find a lot more joy in the everyday moments and perform his defensive duties at the highest level for the Oilers as they get set for another hard series versus a Vancouver team that will pose different challenges than the one before.

“I feel like last year, I wanted to do so well. I didn't want to let anyone down,” he added. “Edmonton’s so big, and the fans are crazy and you want to play well. But I think this year, I'm just playing my game, just having fun and actually enjoying it.”

Vincent speaks about Round 2 against the Canucks on Monday

That mindset begins in practice for Desharnais, and the Oilers have had plenty of it over a seven-day gap between their first-round series victory over Los Angeles and the start of Round 2 in Vancouver at Rogers Arena on Wednesday night.

The defenceman mentioned he’s used the extra time available to stay sharp in a few key areas so that he can think less about the routine plays when Game 1 inevitably arrives, with the 6-foot-7, 226-pound blueliner expected to draw a few heavier assignments in this series against Vancouver’s elite.

“You just work on a few things,” Desharnais said following Monday’s practice at the Downtown Community Arena. “There are a few things in my game I want to keep improving, keep being clean on – breakouts, faceoffs – just small details that can make a big difference in a playoff game and doing video, trying to get prepared, but I don't want to overdo it either.

“If we play our game, we know we can beat anybody, so I think everyone is pretty excited to get going.”

Leon Draisaitl added that the excitement has ramped up in the Oilers dressing room since discovering the Canucks would be their next opponent, leading to greater urgency in the group to hone in on the little details before Wednesday night's Game 1.

Leon speaks following Monday's practice at the community rink

“There's only so much you can do, right? Just trying to stay mentally and physically ready," the German said. "It's been a couple of days trying to figure out when exactly we're going, so now that we know, it’s time to dial it in a little bit and get ready for Wednesday.”

If you took a poll of the Oilers players who were on the ice for Monday's practice, you’d receive a strong consensus on what they think about having more, says Head Coach Kris Knoblauch.

“Ask the players and they'll definitely say yes,” Knoblauch said. “They want to get at it. They're done practicing."

That doesn't mean that the Oilers haven't been grateful for some extra time to rest some bumps and bruises and prepare accordingly for their coming matchup with Vancouver, but even that benefit can reach its max before it's capped out.

Adam Henrique and Evander Kane were not a part of that participating list for the Oilers at Monday's practice, but the bench boss said he was hopeful the two forwards could practice on Tuesday morning before the team's flight to Vancouver.

"We were able to have a day off the other day. We had two practices, a day off and then we'll have another. Today was a good practice," Knoblauch added. "Tomorrow will be lighter and then we'll get ready for Game 1. It is a little bit long, but we've got some guys that are banged up and now they're able hopefully to be 100 percent by the time Game 1 happens.”

“I think this time of year rest is good, but I think we're all excited to play and excited to get going,” Draisaitl said. “We’ve been on the ice a couple of days now, so just looking forward to getting going here.”

Kris speaks to the media following the team's Monday practice