It was an odd second season for Los Angeles Kings center Phil Danault.
He set a high bar in his first season, scoring 27 goals, and finishing third on the team in points.
And while some fans felt he regressed in year two, he actually finished with a career-high 54 points. But it was also the first time he finished the season as a negative since 2015-16, despite improving his defensive metrics from last season. Again, it was an odd year.
What we really saw with Danault, more than any individual change, was a change in his role. Last season Danault broke the narrative around him being a shutdown, all-defense center with limited offensive ability.
He was given a more significant offensive role on the team, with Anze Kopitar carrying more of the defensive responsibility, and it paid off. He shattered his previous career-high in goals and finished just two points off his career-high in points.
But this season was a little different, he went back to being used in a more defensive role, particularly in the second half of the season.
There were offensive struggles, making some of the criticisms about him valid. He had 12 fewer five-on-five points this season, including 10 fewer goals at even strength.
Teams are now aware he's an offensive threat and have adjusted accordingly. And Trevor Moore's health played a role. Danault was a big beneficiary of Moore's ability to create chances and shots, which Danault could then feed off of in front.
With Moore out of the lineup for a long stretch and not at 100% for a lot of the time he was in the lineup, Danault struggled a bit.
These struggles combined with Quinton Byfield's move to the top line and Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe's offensive explosion in the second half led to a more defensive role for Danault.
By the end of the season, just one player started a lower percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone than Danault — surprisingly, that player was Byfield. Linemates Viktor Arvidsson and Trevor weren't far behind Danault, with the fourth and sixth fewest offensive zone starts.
Starting 53% of his faceoffs outside of the offensive zone, Danault was back to his defense-first role.
So, with a more defensive role and some five-on-five production issues, how did Danault set a career-high in points?
He smashed his previous career highs in power-play production.
The power play saw a huge improvement last season and Danault's points improved with it.
His previous career high in power-play points was four and last season he grabbed 20 on the man advantage. His three goals were just one above his previous career-high of two, but his 17 assists shattered his previous high of four.
Playing mostly on the left half-wall, Danault picked up a lot of secondary assists with nine secondaries and seven primaries.
I wouldn't call him a driving force on that second power-play unit, but he was an important piece. He kept things ticking on the half-wall and his excellent puck-retrieval skills were pivotal to their success.
Two big criticisms of Danault before he signed in Los Angeles were his lack of goals and lack of power-play production. In the last two seasons, he's put both those to rest and set career highs in both categories.
He was also excellent again in the playoffs, finishing with five points in six games while matching up with Connor McDavid for a good portion of the series.
In the end, Danault finished with a pretty successful season. He noticeably regressed at five-on-five — especially in the goal department but I think that should have been somewhat expected — but that comes with the caveat that he played a more defensive role this season. He performed well in that more defensive role and made up for the five-on-five regression with a massive improvement on the power play.
If Danault can take on a more offensive role again next season and recover some of his even-strength production and continue to feast on the man advantage. We could be looking at a 60-point season next year. Although, using him as a shutdown center who can grab 50-plus points isn't a bad option either.