Six months into his tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks, Lively native Andrew Desjardins had a Stanley Cup ring to show for it.
In his first full season with the team last year, Desjardins established a career high with eight goals, a modest total perhaps, but very solid production given the fourth line role that he fills with unmatched tenacity.
In that sense, the fact that he enters his first training camp on the north side of his 30th birthday, constantly striving for more, raises very few eyebrows. Even his best ever season could have been better, in his eyes, anyways.
“I struggled at the beginning, no question,” noted Desjardins last month, not long after finishing yet another challenging daily summer workout at the RHP Training Centre. “But I thought I was a little snake-bitten, pucks just didn’t go my way at times.”
“The second half, there were sections there where I thought I had some of the best parts of my career, certainly from a production standpoint. It was kind of one of those roller-coaster seasons. It’s weird, though, because every year seems a little like that,” he added with a laugh.
Despite boasting some phenomenal individual performances, with the likes of Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin tag-teaming for an impressive haul of NHL hardware, the 2015-2016 campaign, or more specifically the post-season campaign, will not rank among the more memorable in recent Blackhawks history.
Such is the downside for a franchise whose base standard is set so incredibly high. “There’s no satisfaction in being knocked out in the first round (of the playoffs), but we went seven games with a really good team, and were basically one shot away from advancing,” Desjardins acknowledged.
“You’re not going to come out on top every time. That’s probably the best way to look at it.” Still, this is a team defined by their inner desire to always be the best. It’s a shared mission, and one in which every individual who dons the jersey sees themselves as a key cog in the wheel of success.
“As a role guy, it’s big when you score certain goals, because it really gets the team fired up,” noted Desjardins. “Especially those big goals – first goal of the game, game tying goal, go ahead goal, goals like that. I think the top six guys get pretty excited about it.”
Yet Desjardins understands, likely better than most, just how delicate that balancing act can be, not straying too far from the parameters and expectations of a coach (Joel Quenneville) who clearly ranks in the top five in the game, these days.
“You don’t want to be cheating on the ice, to be cheating for goals as a role guy,” said Desjardins. “But when you score, it’s a big thing for your team.” The recognition of the details of his role, and what is required for his own personal success, is evident in each and every off-season training session that the local veteran of more than 360 NHL games launches himself into.
“You concentrate on certain things – explosiveness, maybe having that extra step,” said Desjardins. “As far as skill goes, I don’t try and mess with it too much. I try and cover that off by just going on the ice and playing with the puck.”
“But for things like footwork, you might incorporate that a little more in your off-ice regimen. It’s also about having that confidence, and knowing when to ramp up at the right times, so that you’re not over doing it, or not getting to a plateau stage too early.”
There is much to be learned from a career that has now spanned six NHL seasons. A discussion with the former member of the Soo Greyhounds, selected in the 15th and final round of the OHL draft in 2002, has certainly changed slightly over the years, as he merges the knowledge of his pro hockey experience, with the relentless work ethic that ultimately allowed him to reach his hockey goals.
“The older I get, the more I realize that you want to hit that confidence and that peak at the right time,” he said. “Then you’re going into camp feeling good, feeling like you’re untouchable. That’s what I try and strive for in the training during the summer.”
“The way I try and look at it, is that I feel I always have something to prove. Yes, I’m more established, but you don’t want to give up even an ounce of separation, you don’t want to give anybody your spot. You’re always proving to yourself and your teammates that you’re the man for the job, that you’re supposed to be there.”
Ironically, while many Blackhawk prognosticators noted, during the summer, that there would be forward positions up for grabs this year, Desjardins was most often included on the list of those players who were rock solid lock, a list that typically included the likes of Kane, Panarin, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
His situation is a by-product to a salary cap system that requires teams, like Chicago, to strike a balance between the very expensive top end tandem of Toews and Kane, with the likes of Desjardins, players who fully understand their role, are thankful for the opportunity to tackle said role, and can still find many ways to contribute to team success, all within a financially affordable structure.
“I’m not an overly confident person, I don’t think, but you want to have somewhat that confidence factor,” suggested Desjardins. “I definitely feel that I’m good enough to be there, that my game is good enough, and that I’m not on the downswing of not having it.”
And so the search for improvement continues, as a whole new schedule kicks off, slightly more than a week away. Desjardins, and hockey fans everywhere, can hardly wait.