What a difference a year makes.
Cédric Desruisseaux has 11 points in five games this season for the Charlottetown Islanders. It was Nov. 20, in Game 23, during a three-point performance against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar that he recorded point 11 during the 2019-20 campaign.
He enters tonight’s game in a three-way tie for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scoring lead with teammate Thomas Casey and Shawn Element of the Cape Breton Eagles.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen my name there,” Desruisseaux said with a smile before practice earlier this week. “There’s a lot of good players there, so I am just going to try to give my best and we’ll see what (the future holds).”
Digging deeper into last year’s numbers shows Desruisseaux got off to a good start with points in the first four games through September, but then he went dry, managing only three points in 11 October games.
Islanders’ head coach Jim Hulton answers immediately when asked what the difference is from a year ago.
“Confidence,” he said. “He was really snake-bitten the first half last year. He put a lot of pressure on himself being a high-profile part of that P.O. trade.”
The Islanders traded captain Pierre-Olivier (P.O.) Joseph to the Drummondville Voltigers on Dec. 27, 2018. The return included defencemen Xavier Bernard and Will Trudeau, a first-round pick and two second-round picks. One of the second-round picks was a space holder for Desruisseaux so Drummondville could use him as they loaded up for a championship run. He became Islanders’ property at the 2019 draft.
The Islanders saw potential in Desruisseaux, who scored 10 of his 19 goals on the power play in his final season in Drummondville. But the immediate returns weren’t great.
“Unbeknownst to us, I think he was really afraid he wasn’t going to stay here,” said Hulton, who compared Desruisseaux’s first half to Nikita Alexandrov’s first four months in Charlottetown.
“At Christmas, I was not happy at all with my first half,” Desruisseaux admitted. “Jim paid a second-rounder for me and I was not giving what he expected. I wanted to stay here and prove to him that he (made) a good choice to go get me.”
Teams asked about Desruisseaux during the trade period, but Hulton, who also wears the general manager’s hat, said they had no intention of giving him away.
“When we made that trade back with P.O. this was one of the central figures and it was for his 19- and 20-year-old seasons.”
Who – A 20-year-old member of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Charlottetown Islanders.
Height, weight, position – Five-foot-eight, 166-pound left-winger.
Did you know? Desruisseaux was drafted 17th overall by the Victoriaville Tigres at the 2016 draft at Eastlink Centre. The Islanders had the next pick and selected defenceman Marc-Olivier Alain.
National recognition – Twice this season, Desruisseaux has been named the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) player of the night. The Quebec league is the only CHL circuit playing right now.
Season GP G A Pts.
2016-17 10 1 2 3
2017-18 64 24 22 46
2018-19 59 19 15 34
2019-20 56 14 26 40
2020-21 5 7 4 11
Desruisseaux's goal for 2020-21: “To win a (President) Cup. It’s my last chance to win one. With the start we’ve had and the players we have, I think we can (accomplish it).”
“He’s got a bit of swagger back to him that you have to have to be an elite offensive player. He likes the big moments, he likes the power plays, he likes game-on-the-line situations and that’s what leadership is in today’s game. He’s done a terrific job and we sure hope it continues.”
Jim Hulton, Islanders' head coach
Desruisseaux finished the season strong and didn’t let up. He used the downtime caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic to work hard in the gym to get even faster and improve his shot. He also entered the season with a good mindset and is not getting ahead of himself, taking the season a day at a time.
“He has been our best player since the first day of training camp,” Hulton said. “Right from the first night, you could see a little bit extra spark. He’s always been a terrific skater, but now combining that with confidence, he’s been a dominant player. He appears to be that elite offensive overage (player) that you need to be an upper-echelon team.”
And while the numbers are easy to see, the intangibles, which aren’t as easy to measure, are crucial for this team’s success.
Desruisseaux is an associate captain and a mentor to some of the younger players, particularly those making the transition from primarily French-speaking communities.
“I’ve learned a lot from him, just watching him practising and off the ice,” said centre Justin Gill, who like Desruisseaux broke into the league as a 16-year-old. “It’s a real bonus for me.”
The duo has teamed up with sophomore Patrick LeBlanc this season to give the team the ability to spread its scoring on multiple lines. Communication is key, Gill said.
“When we set up a play, for example, for a faceoff, we say the French connection helps us a lot,” he said.
Desruisseaux is a fun-loving guy but knows when it’s time to dial in.
“He’s a pro,” Gill said. “When it’s time to have fun, he will have fun, but when it’s time to be serious, he will be.”
Who knows what the future holds, but Desruisseaux has made an impression on his teammates who will be pulling for him whichever path he takes after this season.
“If he keeps going like that, I’m 100 per cent sure that he’s going to make it to the next level,” Gill said. “I really wish him the best of luck because he really deserves it.”
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