While sitting around the dinner table to celebrate Christmas, Flyers prospect Elliot Desnoyers and his family each make a wish for the upcoming year. Naturally, for the 19-year-old Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec native who was thrust into a pair of skates at 3½ years old, his annual aspiration is always something hockey-related. Last year was no different.
Over the hum of the television broadcasting the World Junior Championship in the background, Desnoyers voiced a dream shared by young hockey players across Canada — next year, he wanted to make Team Canada’s prestigious roster of the nation’s most talented under-20-year-olds.
Instantly, Desnoyers’ family met his wish with support.
“I know that Elliot has the right attitude and the discipline to reach his wishes or his dreams,” David Desnoyers, Elliot’s father, said. “In my heart, I knew that if everything in the season with the [Halifax] Mooseheads was going well and without injuries that his wish was probably ... a good probability that came true.”
Less than a year later, Desnoyers sat on the phone with his parents in his Calgary hotel room following the final exhibition game of Canada’s national junior team selection camp in which he tallied a goal and an assist. There, Desnoyers waited for one of two outcomes — a phone call to inform him that he was cut from the team or a knock on his door to share the news that he made it.
Eager to ease his mind, Desnoyers spoke to them for nearly an hour.
“After our two exhibition games, I thought I played well,” Desnoyers said. “Showed how big of a competitor and like how they could use me on this roster. I was confident, but at the same time, I knew there was a lot of great players here. So I was not trying to think too much about it.”
Then came the hollow thud at his door. On the other side stood assistant coach Louis Robitaille, posing the question Desnoyers dreamed of hearing: Want to be a part of Team Canada?
His answer, echoed between handshakes and hugs, was yes.
As one of 14 forwards on Canada’s roster (two are not yet draft-eligible), Desnoyers was the only one selected outside of the first three rounds of the draft (fifth round, 135th overall). But in the two seasons since the Flyers drafted Desnoyers, which started with his trade from the Moncton Wildcats to the Halifax Mooseheads, the two-way center has shown promise beyond his draft position.
In his second year with the Wildcats, Desnoyers registered 11 goals and 24 assists in 61 games. That offseason, the Mooseheads traded for him and in his first year with the team, Desnoyers finished seventh in the QMJHL with 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in 37 games.
“He was a rookie going into Moncton,” Mooseheads coach Sylvain Favreau said. “You’re playing behind older players and all that and you come to a younger team like Halifax where we were in a rebuild, so now you’re getting the keys to the car, basically. Being the guy. First-line center, power-play time, PK time.”
Desnoyers demonstrated leadership, too. Favreau, who became head coach in April after four years as an assistant, said there wasn’t “any doubt” that he and the coaching staff would choose Desnoyers as the team’s next captain.
“He’s a natural leader, but he learned how to become the guy and how to be when the spotlight is constantly on you,” Favreau said. “A lot of times when you get a letter on your jersey, you don’t want to let it affect your game, how you play. Some players, it does, and affects them in a negative way. For Elliot, it was quite the contrary.”
In 23 games before leaving for Canada’s selection camp in early December, Desnoyers registered 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists), including two five-point games. To make the feat even more impressive, he had hip surgery in the offseason.
The surgery precluded Desnoyers from participating in Canada’s summer development camp from July 28 to Aug. 4, but he still attended. When Desnoyers arrived at the facility on the Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary, team-issued gear awaited him at his dry stall, including a black Hockey Canada hat.
Since that camp, the hat has rarely left the top of Desnoyers’ head. From the gym in Halifax to meals with his junior teammates, he’s worn it everywhere — “I like to keep my dreams close to me,” he explained.
“People were a little bit laughing at me, like, ‘Why are you wearing this Team Canada [hat]? Are you trying to show off?’ Or whatever. But I was just like, no. It’s a special meaning to me. That’s why I wear it.”
In the occasional moment when he felt “lazy,” the hat served as a reminder to keep pushing toward his goal. That will to succeed translates to Desnoyers’ competitiveness on the ice, too, according to Favreau.
“It’s like the amount of times where we’ll be down and the guy that’s gonna have a tying goal or a momentum-shift goal, it’s Elliot Desnoyers,” Favreau said.
In Canada’s lineup, Desnoyers figures to slot in on the bottom six. Most recently in practice, Desnoyers occupied the fourth-line center spot, flanked by New York Rangers 2020 second-round pick Will Cuylle and Arizona Coyotes 2021 first-round pick Dylan Guenther.
Favreau compared Desnoyers to a “Swiss Army knife,” capable of being used in any situation from providing secondary scoring or playing a shutdown role. Regardless of Desnoyers’ role, his father said his son will be ready to take on the challenge.
“In French, we say relever un défi,” David Desnoyers said. “That means, even if it’s playing on the PK or a blocked shot or if they need a goal, any mission he will go on, he will be ready to go.”
This Christmas, the entire Desnoyers family won’t sit around the dinner table in Saint-Hyacinthe and make their traditional wishes. Instead, they plan on traveling to Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, for the tournament, which begins on Dec. 26.
Desnoyers’ long-term wish is to play for the Flyers. But for now, he’s focused on the task at hand — “I’m a guy that loves to live in the present moment,” Desnoyers said — and he’s grateful to have his biggest supporters along for the journey.
“[My family] kind of knew that if I kept working hard, keep going on my path, I’d be here right now,” Desnoyers said. “So ever since that moment [last year], they’ve been helping me a lot and now, here I am, waiting for the tournament to start.”