It has been a while since Les Habitants have had a legit first line French Canadian hockey player. Jonathan Drouin was traded to the Montreal Canadiens by the Tampa Bay Lightning in June for top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev. Since that time, Drouin signed a six-year contract with the Habs with an AAV of $5.5 million. He is in Montreal for the foreseeable future. Here is a sample of his 21 goals last year.
Canadiens to Watch in 2017-18: Jonathan Drouin
Most hockey fans know Drouin had some ups and downs with Tampa Bay. Drouin struggled to get ice time on a team with a ton of talent and depth at the forward position. The Lightning famously suspended Drouin in 2016 after he refused to report to Tampa’s AHL team the Syracuse Crunch and demanded a trade. While many sympathized with his dilemma, his actions did not go over well. Although the Lightning and Drouin patched things up by the 2016 playoffs, general managers have long memories. Drouin’s time in Tampa would soon be up. While few Habs fans were happy to give up a top notch defensive prospect in Sergachev, acquiring a first round pick who brings speed, playmaking ability, and energy to the Bell Centre was worth it. Did you know he also speaks francais?
To Center or not to Center
As LWOH’ s Jeff Deimeke points out, the Habs have some tough decisions to make at center this year. While Drouin scored 21 goals and 32 assists last year, mostly at left wing, it looks like he will also get a chance to play center. He is not new to the position however. Drouin played center in midget and in the QJMHL. In Halifax, Drouin centered the top line for the Mooseheads alongside Nathan MacKinnon and scored 29 goals and racked up 79 assists.
The biggest problem with playing Drouin at center are the defensive responsibilities that are required. The worry is he might produce less offense as he focuses on matching up against bigger and more experienced centers. These, of course, are the same concerns raised regarding Alex Galchenyuk. The problem is that the data doesn’t support the supposition. Galchenyuk’s “best moments in the NHL came as a centre.” The Habs are better when Gachenyuk plays center and may be better still if Drouin can too. Will fans see the sort of patience required from Julien to let either (or ideally both) of these players develop into responsible 200-foot players? Many hope so.
So what can fans expect if Drouin finds a home at center? According to LWOH’s Aaron Wrotkowski, Drouin played centre for a week in March last year for Tampa. A closer look at those games provides a limited but positive picture of Drouin’s strengths at that position. Drouin played four games at center in March (March 9, 11, 13, 14) and the Lightning won all four. In those games, Drouin assisted on three goals and fired eight shots on net. On the powerplay, he was a consistent threat. Importantly, he played an average of 19 minutes per game and averaged 57% in the face off dot.
Many have opined about where Drouin best fits in the Habs line up. Based on reports that he and Pacioretty have been spending time together this summer both on and off the ice, the potential for a Max Pacioretty-Drouin-Artturi Lehkonen line is worth thinking about. Drouin is a slightly bigger, more skilled version of David Desharnais, with whom Pacioretty had great on ice chemistry. Arturri Lehkonen is a skilled and responsible winger, who could provide some defensive support should Drouin decide to go on an end-to-end run like this.
Whatever lines emerge from training camp, Drouin is likely to become a fan favorite in Montreal. He may thrive in the spotlight and remind fans of the days of the Flying Frenchman.
Jonathan Drouin 2017/18 Projections