Phillip Danault is entering his final season of junior hockey but he has some unfinished business to take care of before he makes the jump to pro.
Last season, after his Victoriaville Tigres were among the QMJHL's top teams in the regular season, they ignobly bowed out of the playoffs in a first-round sweep. Furthermore, on a more personal level, Danault found himself among the last cuts to make Canada's World Junior team last December. With this being his final season with the Tigres and his last year of eligibility with the Canadian World Junior squad, he expects better results and aims to end his junior career on a high note.
A native of Victoriaville, Danault has captained his hometown Tigres since midway through his draft year. Selected in the 1st round ( 26th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, he is already signed to an entry-level deal with that team and is looking forward to attending his second straight NHL training camp this fall.
When asked what he brings to the ice, the 6'0”, 190-pound forward is direct in his response.
"My work ethic helps everyone and my emotion. I can play a physical game. Give me a role and I will do it. I bring intensity. I can bring some offensive and some defensive play, but I'm more a PK guy than on the power-play."
No slouch offensively, Danault posted a career high 71 points last season with Victoriaville, including 18 goals, which saw him finish sixth on the team in scoring. With 94 points, the Tigres had the third-best regular season record in the QMJHL, but due to divisional seeding, they entered the playoffs as the fourth-ranked team and faced off against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
Much was expected from the Tigres, not just due to their strong regular season, but also thanks to their impressive playoff run the year before. In 2011, the 11th-seeded Tigres pulled a four-game sweep upset over sixth-ranked Acadie-Bathurst before bowing out to the eventual league champion Saint John Sea Dogs in the second round.
Unfortunately for the Tigres, the shoe was on the other foot in 2012, where they found themselves on the receiving end of a four-game upset thanks to the Drakkar. In those four matches, Danault posted just three assists. He knows that both he and the Tigres need to be better this year.
"It was hard to be swept in four games, but we learned from that and we'll be better. We have better team chemistry and have more experience so we'll be ready for sure. We will see what is going to happen in the first part of the year, as you never know before Christmas and hopefully we'll be in a position to buy when it comes to Christmas [trade period]."
Victoriaville was awarded the Luc Robitaille Trophy as the highest-scoring team in the QMJHL last year, but after saying goodbye to a number of veteran contributors, things will not be as easy this time around for Danault and the Tigres.
Regardless of how his QMJHL season turns out, Danault should have a smoother ride when it comes to his bid to crack Team Canada's roster for the World Juniors this winter. One of the last cuts at last year's winter camp, Danault is confident in his chances as the hockey season approaches.
"I don't want to change anything [from last year]. Last year was bad luck and this year won't be the same thing."
Playing for Team Canada during the Canada-Russia Challenge this summer, Danault saw time in all four games, mainly on the third line. Though he did not register a point in the series, he played a physical defense-first role as well as seeing plenty of time on the penalty kill.
"Spotty makes me confident and gives me a lot of responsibility. I have good line mates too with Hudon and Boone."
Danault and Jenner, in particular, formed a formidable penalty killing duo for Canada and it will be interesting to see if the pair is reunited at Christmas for the tournament.
The World Junior tournament will be hosted in Ufa, Russia. After playing two games in Russia as part of the Challenge, Danault is eager to return, despite some initial misgivings.
"The stuff to eat there was different and the time change was difficult. But it was a good experience and I want to go back at Christmas."