Phillip Danault was a Blackhawks first-rounder in 2011 (Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images)Newly acquired Phillip Danault admitted to being a little tired and a lot excited prior to his first game with the Moncton Wildcats last Saturday.
“It was great; Moncton was my first choice, honestly,” Danault said. “I was so happy when they told me that.
“I had a little trouble sleeping [the night before].”
It never showed, as Danault looked every bit his confident self in a 5-3 win over the Gatineau Olympiques. He chipped in with one assist, playing on a line with wingers Dmitrij Jaskin and Ivan Barbashev.
“I was maybe a bit nervous, but the guys made me more comfortable,” the Chicago Blackhawks prospect said. “They’ve supported me since I’ve arrived. I had two great linemates who were all over the ice all game.”
As the clock struck noon on Jan. 8, the Moncton Wildcats got the last laugh of the QMJHL trading period. Wildcats coach and director of hockey operations Danny Flynn was able to acquire Danault, a first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks and the consolation big prize on the QMJHL trading market, from the Victoriaville Tigres, paying a hefty sum for his services.
In exchange, the Tigres acquired defensive prospect Gabriel Gagne, the Wildcats’ top prospect from the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, and four draft picks: their first round picks in 2014 and 2015, their first Euro draft pick in 2014, and a second round pick in 2015.
Danault related that being traded to Moncton was what he was hoping for.
“It’s always hard to play against [the Wildcats]. I think it’s the best team I could be traded to.
“It was a shock at the beginning since I had been with Victoriaville for three and a half years, but I’m proud to be here and I’m very satisfied.”
Danault is known as a premier two-way forward in the QMJHL. He has 45 points this season while bringing a presence in all three zones and on special teams. As the former captain of the Tigres, he hopes to bring his experiences there to Moncton.
“I’m a leader on the ice and off the ice, and I try to come to the ice with intensity each day. [Wildcats captains Allain and Alex Saulnier] bring lots of leadership, and I want to add mine to help them to win every game. I’m a two-way player, so I work hard on the PK and powerplay. I feel I can help everyone here and they can help me too.”
He just returned from a stint with Team Canada at the world junior championship, contributing one assist in six games.
“It definitely helped me [to be named to Team Canada],” he said. “All the little details that Team Canada focuses on, I will use them here and be a better player every game.”
Flynn said that Danault’s game Saturday was a great start.
“He was a little nervous today,” Flynn said. “We haven’t had a chance to practise much.
“He brought smarts. He did a great job on the power play. He’s a good defensive forward. I think he’ll get better and better as he understands our systems and some things were trying to do. Having only practised once or twice and then being thrown into the lineup, I thought he handled himself very well.”
Flynn said it was a struggle trying to get Danault to Moncton.
“I started talking with Jerome Mesonero, the GM of Victoriaville, mid-summer, in preparation that if they elected to get younger that we would be interested in him,” Flynn said.
“We had a couple face-to-face meetings throughout the fall, and it didn’t look like we fit together as trading partners. The type of return he was looking for we didn’t have in our organization.
“I stayed with it and kept my hat in the ring, and as it got down to the last two or three days, we tried to put something together that was fair for both sides. We gave up some future for a player that we know will help us now.
“We knew if we wanted to make that move to get into the top six teams, we felt we had to add a real good forward to our lineup.”
While it was a big price to pay for the best forward on the market not named Jonathan Huberdeau, Flynn added that he wasn’t worried about giving up so much future to get a player who can fit in his team’s top-6 forwards.
“You have to give to get, and to get good players you have to give,” Flynn said. “Giving up the high picks creates a lot of challenges for our scouting staff and a lot of challenges to me in regards to free agents and the European draft. We’re going to have to find a way to get those picks back, find players in later rounds, or find some free agents that will make up the distance.”
Flynn said giving up picks from the 2014 and 2015 drafts allow for the Wildcats to make some more moves to make up for the lost picks.
“We still have a very good nucleus coming back for next year’s team. You’ll feel the impact of those picks two or three years down the road, so we’ve got some time to make up for that.”
Danault said that he feels this team has a real shot at a championship this season.
“I really feel that we can be the best out there if we work hard every practice and every game,” he said. “I’m very excited to see what we can do.”
Mike Sanderson is the QMJHL correspondent for Buzzing The Net.