Last season, Jonathan Drouin’s ability to play hockey reached a critical moment while he was warming up to play the Calgary Flames in April. He finally realized that he could no longer hide from or ignore his demons. He stepped off the ice, headed to the dressing room, and was not seen by the media or fans for months.
A week later, on April 28, the Montreal Canadiens placed Drouin on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). He missed the rest of the regular season and all of the playoffs while the team reached the Stanley Cup Final. The only news from the Canadiens was that Drouin had left the team for personal reasons and that they hoped everyone would respect his privacy. Beyond a few sporadic questions asked of players and staff, the media obliged.
Drouin Breaks His Silence
As the 2020-21 season approached, in the vacuum created by the lack of information, rumours surfaced. Some were about possible drug use, others about a potential trade. The speculation gained so much momentum, especially in Quebec, that Drouin’s agent, the fiercely loyal firebrand, Allan Walsh, lashed out on social media.
On Sept. 20, Drouin put the rumours to rest in a one-on-one interview with Chantale Machabee, a lead journalist for RDS, TSN’s francophone sister station. He opened up about his struggles (translated from the original French):
“It was years of anxiety and insomnia. That week was difficult for me. I fell ill to the point that I had no control of my body. For me, that was the moment I realized that I needed to take a step back from hockey. I had been dealing with this problem for years, but last season, it grew to another level.”-Jonathan Drouin (Interview with Chantale Machabee, RDS.ca, 20 Sept. 2021)
In that short interview, Drouin showed a vulnerability that few athletes have dared to show. He also took control of the narrative simply by telling his story. More importantly, by having the courage to share what he went through, he will no doubt help others. Hopefully, an admired NHLer who openly admits and discusses his struggles will normalize discussions about mental health issues and help remove the stigma against them.
New Season, New Drouin
After finding the help he needed, Drouin has returned to the ice looking physically and mentally prepared for training camp, which opens this week. He has set goals for himself this season. No one would blame him if it was to be a top-six forward or score x number of goals. But he wasn’t sharing them. What he did share was that he wants to keep his passion for the game and to improve.
“I just want to have fun. Just have fun and improve every day. I know it sounds cliche, but just have fun playing hockey. I think that’s what’s best for me.”-Jonathan Drouin (Interview with Chantale Machabee, RDS.ca, 20 Sept. 2021)
He will have detractors who want to see him fail, but thankfully, those few angry people will be drowned out by the vocal majority, who are rooting for Drouin’s success because most fans love a redemption story.
New Role, Fresh Start
Drouin has a long history with head coach Dominique Ducharme, having won the Memorial Cup together in 2013 with the Halifax Mooseheads. With a new season and a new coach, he has the opportunity for a fresh start. In the interview, Drouin mentioned he hasn’t spoken to Ducharme about his role on the team; however, he did say that he is ready to play wherever he’s needed:
“I’ve played left wing, right wing, at center, I’m comfortable wherever. Dominique (Ducharme) will make the decision where I play.”-Jonathan Drouin (Interview with Chantale Machabee, RDS.ca, 20 Sept. 2021)
Fans will respond to Drouin’s positive outlook, and his critics will be silenced if he produces offensively. That is where his new outlook will become vitally important as he tries to remain focused. He has received some professional help and coping skills, and they will be put to the test.
“I’m just going to be more calm, more in the moment, more capable of not thinking about what’s happening next or what happened yesterday. For me, that’s one of the big things I’ve tried to change in my life. Forget about what happened yesterday, move on to something else. I’m not afraid to talk about it, and I’ve talked with a lot of players.”-Jonathan Drouin (Interview with Chantale Machabee, RDS.ca, 20 Sept. 2021)
Ducharme must use the preseason to determine where Drouin best fits into the lineup. For some, it will be on the top line because of his chemistry with Nick Suzuki, or he may be better suited to play on a line with newly acquired center Christian Dvorak.
Dvorak is a quality two-way center who likes to shoot more than pass. With Dvorak doing the heavy defensive work, alongside heart and soul player Brendan Gallagher on the right-wing would help ease the burden on Drouin to focus on defence and allow him to focus instead on controlled zone exits, the transition game, and creating offence, all of which play into his skillset. Also, having two linemates whose style is 100% effort at all times could be beneficial in helping him step up to that standard and erase the negative connotations that come with his firewagon style of play.
Drouin has received support from his family, teammates and the Canadiens organization throughout this ordeal. That support has allowed him to return to the ice mentally and physically refocused, which is good for himself and the team. He will enter the season with something to prove, and fans will be there to cheer on his successes on and off the ice.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.