2022-23 Is Last Chance for Canadiens and Drouin to Make it Work

For Jonathan Drouin and the Montreal Canadiens, this season is a final opportunity to make the best of a bad situation. For the Canadiens and general manager (GM) Kent Hughes, it’s to finally have a talented player reach something close to his potential. For Drouin, it truly is a make-or-break season to earn a new NHL contract with term and salary.  

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The 27-year-old forward is heading into the final season of the six-year, US$33 million contract with a US$5.5 million salary cap hit. While it is true that it is Drouin’s last, best chance to prove his value, it is also true that the odds are that he doesn’t have a future in a Canadiens uniform. Along with Drouin, Sean Monahan, Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov provide Hughes several trade options as pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) rentals that he can try and trade to acquire another 2023 first-round pick, but only if they can perform well. 

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Drouin has faced more than his share of criticism and pressure. But now, he is in the final countdown to when Hughes can end the speculation and finally books him a ticket out of Montreal. 

Drouin’s Fresh Start – Again 

Some can point to a string of bad luck for why Drouin was never able to make himself invaluable to Montreal. Last season, Drouin played in only 34 games, scoring six goals and 20 points before missing the rest of the season due to injuries. The season before that, in 2020-21, he played in only 44 games, scoring just two goals and 23 points before taking the rest of the season off to deal with anxiety and missing the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Related: Canadiens and the Jonathan Drouin Situation 

In the 2019-20 season, Drouin began his streak of missing significant time with injury. He played in only 27 games, scoring seven goals and 15 points, followed by a very strong bubble playoff performance with seven points in 10 games. In all those seasons, he produced at an acceptable rate for a top-six forward. That makes it a priority to remain healthy this season if he wants to pad his point totals and raise his value, something he has acknowledged as his main goal. 

“Staying healthy and playing as many games as I can. These past two, three years have been tough for me on that point, where I’ve had good starts to the season and injuries completely ruined my season. So, I’m really focused on taking care of my body and making sure I’m healthy for 82 games.”

– Jonathan Drouin (Stu Cowen, Jonathan Drouin a healthy scratch for Canadiens’ season opener, The Montreal Gazette, 12 Oct 2022) 

The stage was set for a pivotal training camp for the left winger, but in the end, it was one where the Montreal native left fans, the media and his coach underwhelmed. 

Canadiens Scratch Drouin 

Now with a new head coach in Martin St. Louis, Drouin has a final opportunity to impress under an offensive minded bench boss. St. Louis is under no danger of being fired like Dominique Ducharme was, as there is no expectations for this edition of the Canadiens to compete for a playoff spot now with star goaltender Carey Price on the long-term injury reserve (LTIR) list. 

Carey Price
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

For St. Louis, he will want to avoid Drouin’s situation becoming a distraction or generating bitterness that could bleed into the dressing room and distract the other players from the main goal of this season, to develop the youth. Coming off of injuries and an underwhelming training camp, Drouin will be a healthy scratch as the Canadiens choose to support the five rookies in the opening night lineup with other veterans. 

Drouin’s Last Chance 

After playing seven seasons in the NHL, for two teams and four coaches, Drouin can’t be given any more leeway based on age or inexperience. For him, there are no more distractions or excuses. One of his former coaches pulled no punches when talking about him on a French language sport show on TVA Sports. 

“With Jonathan, there is always an excuse, but me, I don’t want to hear any. He has so much potential, it’s incredible. If he puts together the tools of concentration, effort and focus he could become an incredible player. We all just hope he can play some good hockey.”

Michel Therien 

As a lightning rod for criticism, Drouin has heard all this before, especially from Therien. But it will fall on the Canadiens coaching staff to place Drouin in situations that he can succeed. They will need to find matchups he can exploit and be slotted into a power play that is firing on all cylinders. Also, while St. Louis and the coaching staff in the American Hockey League (AHL) focus on developing the young players and prospects, such as 2022 first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky, that the Canadiens will use as the foundation of this rebuild, the rest falls onto the player to finally meet his potential.  

Juraj Slafkovsky Montreal Canadiens 2022 Draft
Juraj Slafkovsky, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Which leaves the job of convincing rival GMs that Drouin is worth something of value to a rebuilding team to Hughes. He was asked in his press conference prior to the opening of the 2022-23 season if Drouin has a future with the team. In response Hughes said, “Joe is in the final year of his contract. He’s not the only player in the final year of his contract. The players that show to us that they can continue to contribute to the team in a positive manner, it’s certain they could have a future with the team. But I can’t answer at the moment. That will be judged during the season.”

It will be interesting to watch how St. Louis balances his approach in satisfying a veteran’s needs with those of the up-and-coming youth in the organization. In the end, it is in the best interest for both sides to work together on maximizing Drouin’s performance, for the best outcome for all concerned. 

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