By Jonathan Bombulie
WILKES-BARRE TWP., Pa. – When Jean-Michel Daoust packs up his things every September and heads off to training camp, he doesn’t expect to return back home until June.
Long playoff runs are his specialty.
In his last two seasons of junior hockey, in 2003 with Hull and 2004 with Gatineau, Daoust teamed with Pittsburgh Penguins center Max Talbot to raise the President’s Cup as Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champs.
In his first pro season, in 2006, Daoust helped the Danbury Trashers to the United Hockey League finals.
Then last year, after starting the playoffs with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Daoust was assigned to the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cylones and led that team to a Kelly Cup championship.
“I’m used to it. I like it. It’s something I’m proud of,” Daoust said after practice this week. “Every year I’m playing with good teams. That’s the main thing. I’m playing with teams that work hard and have good work habits and all that. Getting experience in the playoffs helps me a lot.”
Daoust started this year’s playoffs as the Penguins’ fourth-line right wing. He threw his 5-foot-7 frame around with abandon, joining with Paul Bissonnette and rookie Joe Vitale to form the team’s most effective line combination in the last week of the regular season.
“When I played with Joe and Biss, we were doing very well,” Daoust said. “Those are two guys that are bringing energy and I’m bringing energy and we all played well together. We kept it very simple and tried to bring the puck to the net.”
The first game of the playoffs, however, brought an injury to leading scorer Janne Pesonen and lineup juggling followed.
When the dust settled, Daoust found himself on the team’s top line with Chris Minard and Jeff Taffe.
The combination clicked in a big way, as all three members of the line posted seven points in five games against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
That leaves Daoust in the top 10 in the league in playoff scoring, in the same sentence with AHL luminaries like Darren Haydar, Jason Krog and Alexandre Giroux.
How would Daoust have reacted if you told him two weeks ago he’d be in such elite company on the stat sheet?
“I would have laughed at you,” he said. “I didn’t expect to play on the first line like that.”
Daoust has also played on the first power-play unit, and that group’s efforts are the biggest reason the Penguins dispatched Bridgeport in five games in the first round.
The Penguins went 9-for-21 with the man-advantage while holding the Sound Tigers to three goals on 24 power-play tries.
“It’s a huge thing,” Daoust said. “Even our PK has been very good. Special teams are winning games and losing games right now and both units are doing very well.”
Daoust pinch-hit on the top line a few times during the regular season because he has the kind of puck skills that fit in well with talented players. He credits his success this time, however, to bringing a fourth-line mentality to his first-line role.
“I think that was one of my problems during the year. I was changing my game,” he said. “Playing with the fourth line, I was chipping in and banging. On the first line, with Minnie and Taffer, I was trying to make plays and I was turning the puck over and things like that. So what I’m doing now is keeping my game simple, trying to chip in, finish my bumps and play down low. It’s working out.”