Canadiens’ Drouin Has One Last Chance to Prove Doubters Wrong

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin just wrapped up his annual charity golf tournament benefiting the CHUM (Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal) Foundation. He has been a fixture each offseason in Montreal, participating in different events and charities throughout his career with the team. His work off the ice is usually well received, but it’s his work on the ice that takes the criticism and is the talk of the local media and fans – now, he is entering the final season of his $5.5 million contract, and needs to show he’s worth it on the ice.

Expectations Were High From the Start

When the Canadiens’ former general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin decided to trade top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Drouin, he claimed it was to get a star francophone player on the team and, hopefully, a number one center. That immediately set expectations very high for the third overall pick in the 2013 Draft, not only because he was a francophone player but because he was acquired to simultaneously fix several lingering issues the team had.

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

Drouin, however, did not live up to those lofty expectations; after a career season with the Lightning, scoring 21 goals and 53 points, he only had 13 goals and 48 points in his first season with the Canadiens. Not only did he take a dip in production, but he also didn’t fare well playing as a center either and was back on the wing by season’s end. The following season was better as he tied his career high with 53 points, but then the injuries started piling up, and the next three seasons he played a total of 105 games, scoring 15 goals and 58 points. He also missed time with three wrist surgeries and mental health issues, which kept him from playing in the Canadiens’ magical Stanley Cup Final run.

It was not all bad: Drouin scored at a pace of between 43 and 48 points over the last three seasons if he had played an entire season, which seems to be in his scoring wheelhouse. The expectations for him were 25-30 goals and 70-75 points which he never came close to in Montreal; maybe if those expectations were a little lower, he wouldn’t be the polarizing player he is today.

St. Louis Must Figure Out the Drouin Puzzle

New head coach Martin St. Louis turned a lot of players’ seasons around when he took over with 37 games remaining in the 2021-22 season. Cole Caufield went from one goal and eight points to 23 and 43 points, scoring at an almost point-per-game rate; Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak, and Jeff Petry, among others, also saw a jump in scoring after the coaching change. Unfortunately, Drouin only played two games under the new coach before injuring his wrist, missing the rest of the season and having yet another surgery.

Martin St. Louis Montreal Canadiens
Martin St. Louis, Montreal Canadiens head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It seems every season, and with every new coach that Drouin has had, the fans or media say, maybe this one will finally help him break out. Claude Julien couldn’t do it, but he was a more “defense first” type of coach, which some would argue Drouin isn’t an excellent defender, so naturally, it didn’t work. Then Dominique Ducharme became the coach and mirrored Julien’s coaching style with the same results.

St. Louis, however, coaches a very different style than the other two by letting his skilled players use their skills instead of boxing them into a system style of play. You can say what you want about Drouin and his play, but you can’t deny his skill. If he can be free to use his skill more freely and not be as restricted to a system, as he was with the other coaches, he could finally start producing close to what was expected of him. If he still fails to produce, we genuinely know it’s a Drouin thing and not a coaching one.

Health & Motivation Will Go a Long Way

For Drouin to play to the expectations of a third overall pick, as well as the ones that Montreal media and fans have had for five seasons now, he must remain healthy. Not only that but he must be fully healed from his past surgeries and still play at a high skill level. If he can’t, everything is moot, and he will not have a productive season; if he is fully healthy, then there is no excuse for him not to have a productive one. He will be battling for top-six minutes with Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, and this past draft’s first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. Drouin says he is ready for this season, he is healthy and now must show he can produce on the ice to help the team and prove he is suitable for another contract.

Related: Canadiens’ Top Trade Assets for 2022-23

Drouin will also be motivated because it’s the last year of his contract, and he says he wants to stay in Montreal. To impress the new GM Kent Hughes, he will need to have an outstanding season, prove he still belongs with the Canadiens and is worthy of a new contract. Whether he has a great season or not, odds are he will be moved at the trade deadline for assets; the Habs are in a rebuild and looking to get younger. Even though Drouin has the skill at 27 years old, the Canadiens won’t want to sign him to a long-term deal.

Montreal management hopes that Drouin plays well enough this season to at least garner a decent return at the deadline. If he plays exceptionally well and wants to stay with the club, the Canadiens would more than likely want a shorter term on a team-friendly deal. A contract year is critical for players. It means either a bigger salary or a smaller one, depending on their play; his history shows he’s on pace for a smaller contract next season no matter where he goes unless he gets on track this season and blows everyone away.

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