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In the search for the ‘next Dakota Joshua,’ consider the atypical option of Vincent Desharnais

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
2 days ago
Okay, okay. We can admit that the ‘next Dakota Joshua’ thing has maybe gone a little too far.
In the end, it was just a comment made by GM Patrik Allvin about the possibility of the team losing Joshua via free agency, and how the best approach to that situation would be to pursue a replacement that – like Joshua when he first arrived in Vancouver – was just on the cusp of breaking out, as opposed to someone else who had already earned a big paycheque, like Joshua had.
 
In the end, the Canucks signed the actual Dakota Joshua to a four-year extension. They also added a couple of candidates who had already drawn mention as potential Joshua sequels. Danton Heinen was one such name raised, and he was inked to a two-year deal on July 1.
So too was Kiefer Sherwood, a player that our own Michael Liu just made a compelling argument for as the “next Dakota Joshua” in article form.
It was a good article. We all like the idea of the Sherwood addition, and this piece is certainly not intended as a counterpoint of any sort. This is just an alternate way of looking at the question of the next Dakota Joshua, what it really means to be “the next Dakota Joshua,” and why the player who best fits that profile might not be another forward at all, but recently-signed defender Vincent Desharnais.
Now, we realize that’s an odd choice right off the bat. Good thing we’ve got approximately 800 words worth of room left to convince you.
We can get the obvious similarities out of the way first. Joshua and Desharnais are both sizeable individuals who use their frame to apply physicality, and neither of them are shy about dropping the gloves. In fact, they fought one another last year.
They’re also, despite being two draft classes apart, nearly the same exact age. Joshua was born on May 15, 1996, and Desharnais was born two weeks later on May 29, 1996. But Joshua was drafted in his first year of eligibility, 128th overall by Toronto in 2014. Desharnais had to wait two years and was finally drafted as a double over-ager by Edmonton at 183rd overall in 2016.
That’s about where the obvious similarities end. For many, the whole “next Dakota Joshua” thing is about a statistical breakout of some sort. We’re not here to predict that Desharnais is about to start setting scoresheets ablaze.
Desharnais’ NCAA high-point were the 13 points he got for Providence College in his fourth and final season there. The most points he’s ever got in any season on record are the 27 he notched for Bakersfield in the AHL last year.
Contrast that with Joshua, who scored as many as 15 goals and 35 points in an NCAA campaign, and who managed 20 points in 35 games his first real AHL season.
Joshua’s offensive breakout was unexpected. But for Desharnais to do the same would be truly shocking.
But to boil Joshua’s ascension down to the mere putting up of points is not telling the full, or even the real, story. The story of Dakota Joshua is the story of a player who arrived as a still very raw product into the hands of the Vancouver Canucks’ coaching staff, and who was very directly molded by them into a much better NHL player.
He’s not just some fringe NHLer that Rick Tocchet and Co. coaxed into a one-time, anomalous 20-goal campaign. He’s now someone who we can project to have a lengthy, consistent, and notable NHL career, instead of fading back into the obscurity that most formerly-fringe NHLers do.
And that is the potential we also see in Desharnais.
It’s a question, as we mentioned before, of rawness.
Joshua and Desharnais both played their full four years of college hockey, each graduating in 2019 and moving on to pro hockey.
Joshua spent the 2019/20 season split between the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL and the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, playing 50 games total.
Desharnais spent the 2019/20 season split between the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL and the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL, playing 37 games total.
In 2020/21, Joshua made it into 12 NHL games for the Blues, and played six for the Utica Comets of the AHL. That same year, Desharnais continued to be shuttled between Wichita and Bakersfield, upping his games total to 43.
Joshua continued to split his time between St. Louis and the AHL for 2021/22, managing 30 games for the Blues. He signed as a free agent with the Canucks that summer. Desharnais, for his part, escaped the ECHL in 2021/22, becoming a full-time Condor and dressing for 66 games.
From there, you know Joshua’s story well enough. He made the Canucks out of camp in 2022/23 and wound up playing 79 games with 23 points. But that paled in comparison to what Joshua would put together in 2023/24, after a full year of tutelage under Tocchet. Last year, Joshua played 63 games and scored 18 goals and 32 points.
Desharnais fell a little bit behind Joshua’s developmental path. He saw his first 36 games of NHL action in 2022/23, and then made the Oilers full-time last year, skating in 78 games and 16 more in the playoffs.
But then we can also see that, as a member of an Edmonton organization that has been deeper than the Canucks for the past several seasons prior to this one, Desharnais probably didn’t have quite the same opportunity that Joshua did, which makes his late arrival a little more sensical.
And none of that changes the fact that Desharnais is arriving in Vancouver with approximately the same amount of (relatively-limited) pro experience that Joshua brought with him.
Joshua came to Vancouver with 42 NHL games under his belt. Desharnais arrives with 114, a fair amount more, but the bulk of those were gained last season.
Prior to signing in Vancouver, Joshua had played just 91 non-NHL pro games, split between the AHL and ECHL, making for 133 pro games total – and he’d have more if not for some battles with injuries.
Desharnais arrives with 159 non-NHL pro games. It puts them, at least, in the same broad category of inexperience, but ‘inexperience’ can always be seen as another word for ‘upward potential.’ It’s something that can, at the very least, be contrasted with the aforementioned Sherwood, who was already part of an NHL roster for six different seasons prior to this one.
It’s not just about games played, either. All the shuffling between leagues reduces a player’s amount of practice time, and the amount of time they can receive direct instruction from a coach. Most will point to that as the biggest difference-maker in Joshua – that he was able to be an everyday member of the Canucks from the jump, and that, after Tocchet took over, he was able to receive coaching on a daily basis.
With the Canucks now committed to a $2 million cap hit for Desharnais, one has to imagine he’ll receive at least the same opportunity.
Really, we are talking about a player here who has attended, what, maybe 150 full NHL practices in his career? Maybe 200? The point being that there are a lot of lessons at the NHL level that Desharnais simply has not had the time to learn yet. And who better to teach him those lessons than Tocchet and a staff that includes defensive legends like Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar.
They’ve already managed to fix gaps in the games of similarly-sized defenders in Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov. If anyone is going to unlock Desharnais’ raw potential, it’s this crew.
Desharnais himself cited Tocchet and Co. as one of his primary reasons for signing in Vancouver, telling reporters ““I think the way the coaching staff kind of manages everything, it reflects on the players and on the whole team and whole city. I think it kind of matches my style of play of being a hard worker, north-south, just being hard to play against, I’d say that’s the biggest thing.”
Of course, we’re not suggesting that it is solely Desharnais’ inexperience that gives him this potential. There are a lot of guys out there who have split time between the AHL and ECHL who nobody expects to ever develop at the NHL level. But that’s not Desharnais.
The Oilers recognized the potential of elevating Desharnais this past season. GM Patrik Allvin and Co. recognized it in targeting Desharnais on the first day of free agency.
And given that the bidding got as high as $2 million? We dare say that means that a bunch of other teams saw the potential, too.
But potential doesn’t count for much until it is realized. And in signing in Vancouver and placing himself under the tutelage of a coaching staff with a good track record of bringing out the best in their players, Desharnais has perhaps given himself the best chance possible of realizing his potential.
Does that make him “the next Dakota Joshua?” The real answer is: ‘who cares?’ If it makes him the best Vincent Desharnais he can be, that’ll be more than enough.
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