By Bob Trask – Jonathan Drouin broke into the league with a lot of promise after being the third overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft. In his draft year he put up more than two points per game with the Halifax Mooseheads and followed that up with a similar performance the following year. Then the mismanagement started.
The Tampa Years
The Tampa Bay Lightning are often given credit for sound player development but that was simply not the case when it came to Jonathan Drouin.
He was still junior-eligible when he joined the Lightning for his rookie campaign. While he did record 28 assists, Drouin only managed 4 goals in 70 games. In retrospect another year in junior could have done him a world of good.
In the following year (the 2015-16 season) the relationship between Drouin and the Lightning deteriorated. He split his time between Syracuse in the AHL and Tampa, playing only 38 games in total. That is hardly a recipe for player development.
Drouin clawed his way back into the NHL lineup for the 2016-17 season and had his best offensively in the NHL. But the writing seemed to be on the wall and rather than work with the player, it seems that Tampa saw his bounce-back season as an opportunity to move him.
The Canadiens seemed desperate to add a high profile French-Canadian player to the lineup. It is one of those situations that is unique to Montreal and it is understandable why.
The Montreal Years
The acquisition of Drouin by then GM Marc Bergevin added pressure to a player who was still finding his way in the NHL. He was French Canadian, he was a high draft pick and he was going to be the saviour of the franchise. All of this was heaped onto the shoulders of a player who had slightly more than two full years in the NHL. On top of it all he was going to be asked to play center, a more difficult position than wing and one where he had limited experience.
To make matters worse, Bergevin gave up Mikhail Sergachev, who many believe would become the heir apparent to Andrei Markov. Fans and the media would prove to be unforgiving as he came up short of their expectations. It was a lot to ask of a young man who was just 22 years of age.
The center ice experiment proved to be the failure that many predicted but the failure was not Drouin’s fault – it was the miscalculation by management. They thrust Drouin into a role he was not well prepared for and struggled to find a solution to the problem. Eventually, Drouin was moved back to the wing where he should have been all along.
Injuries and personal issues have not helped. In his five seasons in Montreal, Drouin has played a full season only twice. In the other three he has averaged only 35 games.
The Big Picture
Jonathan Drouin’s development has been handled badly by both Tampa and Montreal. He was probably brought into the league too early, he was bounced around by Tampa and thrust into too big of a role in Montreal. Then he was bounced from center to wing with the Canadiens while suffering through injury plagued seasons. In eight years he has played only 427 games for an average of 53 per years.
All of this leads me to believe that we haven’t seen the real Jonathan Drouin just yet.
The Path Forward
Drouin may finally get the break that he has needed. Head coach Martin St-Louis has been able to get a lot out of his players, more than any recent coach with the Canadiens. This is particularly evident with players who have a flair for offense, players like Cole Caufield and Jeff Petry. But players like Christian Dvorak also thrived under St. Louis.
One of the strengths of the Canadiens’ head coach is that he recognizes the individual strengths of his players and puts them in positions to utilize those strengths. He also encourages players to use their own creativity rather than trying to plug them into a restrictive style of play.
That bodes well for Drouin. He is not going to be the checking fiend that is Artturi Lehkonen but he does have superior puck skills and good vision. Benching players for defensive mistakes can squeeze out the confidence to create offense. If St-Louis can live with some of his defensive lapses that will occur from time to time he could able to reap the rewards of an offensively gifted player.
A Successful Season
If Drouin can remain healthy and finally regain the confidence he had in junior hockey, he could become a valuable contributor to the Canadiens going forward. A season of 20-25 goals and 30-35 assists would not be out of the question.
For this reason Drouin could be the wildcard in the lineup that few are counting on. It would be rewarding for the Canadiens, for their fans and most of all for Jonathan Drouin himself.
Bonne chance, Jonathan.