In Montreal, he’s everyone’s favorite scapegoat and whipping boy not named Carey Price, but in his fourth year with the Canadiens, Jonathan Drouin has silenced many of his critics this season with his inspired play and winning attitude.
Sure, the 25-year-old will never be able to convert everyone into a fan, but he’s far less polarizing these days because he’s working smarter, harder and more consistently. He’s finally becoming the player the Habs desperately need, a super-skilled forward who plays with purpose each time he jumps over the boards. He’s turning into the player general manager Marc Bergevin hoped to be getting when he risked trading away his top defensive prospect in Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire him in June of 2017.
Finding Chemistry With Nick Suzuki
Drouin clicked with Nick Suzuki in last year’s playoff bubble in Toronto and their chemistry has carried over to 2020-21 alongside the newly acquired Josh Anderson who has proven to be the perfect complement to the playmaking abilities of his two linemates. The trio has been one of the best lines in the league since game one of the season.
Drouin has 16 points in 23 games which put him tied for fourth in team scoring with Brendan Gallagher. While he still needs to be more selfish and shoot the puck more, he has been creating chances for his teammates all over the ice.
With Anderson missing three games due to injury and being placed on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli upon his return on Saturday night, Drouin has already set up his new winger, Joel Armia for two goals against his former team, the Winnipeg Jets.
“I just showed up this year and made sure that I have an impact on the game. If it’s not on the scoresheet with points or goals I’m doing something to help my team. It’s pretty easy to play hockey when you’re scoring, you just have to put the work in and do your stuff. When you’re a skilled player, your skill is going to come out if you’re working, you’re going to be on the puck more, you’re going to get it more,” Drouin said.
Thriving Under New Head Coach Dominique Ducharme
Drouin must have felt like a kid at a candy store when it was announced that Dominique Ducharme would be taking over as head coach of the Canadiens on an interim basis.
That’s because he enjoyed great success with Ducharme as his coach during his junior days with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL and continues to thrive with him as the new bench boss in Montreal even though it’s only been a handful of games.
He started the season strong and is playing even better now for Ducharme. He’s reinvigorated and enjoying himself while letting his talent speak for itself. A scary combination for opponents.
“I know what he expects of me, I don’t need to guess what he wants from me every night. I know what he wants, he tells me,” Drouin said of Ducharme. “He’s someone who knows how to challenge me, someone who can push me, he knows my limits. That’s really it, he knows my limits and knows how to push me. It’s up to me to respond,” (from ‘Basu and Godin: Canadiens OT woes, Jonathan Drouin thrives, KK grows and more’, The AthleticNHL – 3/5/21).
While with the Mooseheads, Drouin was named the 2013 CHL Player of the Year and Ducharme was awarded Coach of the Year. It marked the first time that members of the Mooseheads had been recognized in either category.
Becoming a Leader
Perhaps the most impressive component of Drouin’s transformation is the leadership role he has taken on this season despite the scrutiny he faces daily.
He’s matured during his four years with the Canadiens to the point where he’s more comfortable speaking his mind with the media and taking more responsibility when things go off the rails as they did in February. His answers are thoughtful and passionate as if he now fully understands the impact he can have as a Quebec-born player suiting up for the Canadiens.
When the Habs beat the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday to give Ducharme his first win as an NHL head coach, it was Drouin who made sure to collect the game puck for his coach to keep as a souvenir of the milestone.
“I didn’t know that it was Jonathan who collected the puck. When we got back to the dressing room, I said something to the players and Shea gave me the puck. It was a nice gesture. I’ve known Jo for a long time. I think it’s 10 years. I’m happy for our players. We’ve been through a rough period,” Ducharme said.
There will still be nights when it feels like Drouin is wasting his immense talent because he makes a mistake, loses a puck battle, misses a perfect scoring opportunity, or passes when he should shoot and he’ll always be an easy target for criticism because the Montreal market expects even more from its top players, especially the ones from Quebec. But it’s been a pleasure watching him grow as a player and a person this season while embracing the privilege he feels to play for the Canadiens. Even though that still won’t be enough for some pundits.
Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media Community Manager. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.