On June 15th, 2017, exactly four days after the Stanley Cup was hoisted, Marc Bergevin made sure that hockey fans everywhere were not going to be bored as he kicked off what was expected to be a crazy summer with a major acquisition. He sent highly-touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire a gifted 22-year-old Quebec native in Jonathan Drouin.
The ensuing contract that Bergevin then gave Drouin makes very clear the message that the GM had for his new acquisition: Here, you will be the man. Time for you to show the league that you can be that guy. At $5.5 million annually for the next six seasons, Bergevin is certainly putting his money where his mouth is as he is giving this type of money to a player who has yet to reach the 60-point plateau. If the 60-point barrier is the criteria for a player to have officially broken out (as mentioned in the Alex Galchenyuk article), then this means that Drouin is the third on the list of breakout candidates in 2017-2018.
It must be noted that he should be first on the list in terms of likelihood of reaching 60 points. He is third on my list because fans should be aiming higher than 60 points here, and at that point, he is not a guarantee. It’s also worth mentioning that Drouin could quickly become a bargain for many years at that price tag, should he be as successful as fans of the team are hoping.
The 22-year-old left winger had a modest start to last season, scoring only seven points in the first 17 contests. Once he got going, he never looked back as he scored 46 points starting in December (56 games) to finish the season with 53 points in 73 games. Keeping his pace over the initial 17 games would have meant a 67-point season. So, while it is possible to argue that Drouin has already “broken out”, others will argue that he hasn’t reached 60 points yet, and he hasn’t done it in Montreal yet, so he still needs to prove himself.
Harsher critics will even point to Drouin getting some PP time next to Nikita Kucherov as a significant advantage to help him reach that level of productivity. While Drouin did score half of his points on the man advantage, that still leaves the other 27 points to be scored at even strength, where he spent most of the season playing on lines with players such as Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle, Brayden Point, and Alex Killorn (58% of games, to be exact). He won’t be getting less PP time in Montreal, that’s for certain. Also, while critics will point to the fact that Montreal doesn’t have a Steven Stamkos, or even a Kucherov on their roster, that point is irrelevant. Drouin has shown a capacity to produce playing next to the four mentioned players and Montreal holds comparable players in Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Artturi Lehkonen and Brendan Gallagher. The question then becomes if Drouin truly can make those around him better, because if he does, and Pacioretty finally has a true top-line play-maker on his line, it is quite possible for him to finally reach his 40-goal season, a happening that would certainly help Drouin reach 60, or even 70 points.
An initial look at the Montreal roster is somewhat confusing as the four forwards with the most skill in Galchenyuk, Drouin, Pacioretty and Lehkonen are all suited to play LW. Because of this overpopulation on the wing, Galchenyuk is likely to get a shot up the middle, with either Drouin or Lehkonen getting a chance to play RW on that top line. In the previous article, I’ve shared the idea of having the playmaking Drouin with two snipers in Pacioretty and Galchenyuk, so Drouin should draw the first opportunity on the team’s top unit, even if he’s playing on the right side. If this line does not function, it is also possible that Drouin gets a chance to play centre while flipping Galchenyuk on the right. One thing that seems certain, even in media outings this summer, is that Pacioretty and Drouin will be given every possible chance to develop some chemistry on the ice, no matter where Drouin lines up.
The concerns with Drouin remain his attitude as the “hold-out” saga in Tampa has not been forgotten by some fans. What will happen if he doesn’t produce immediately and Claude Julien tries him on different line combinations? What happens if he is removed from the PP at some point? Will he pout and complain? Judging by his attitude thus far in Montreal, the young man appears to truthfully have put these issues in the past. So far, Drouin really is saying all the right things and acting like a player that has arrived in Montreal to play some hockey, perhaps even some dominant hockey while there haven’t been any stories about any off-ice occurrences so far.
The final piece of evidence to suggest Drouin is in line for a very productive year is none other than motivation. Drouin was the third overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. This class is proving to be quite productive and Drouin will like to confirm his inclusion on that list of productive players from this draft. Additionally, he will have plenty of motivation to play for his dream team in Montreal and to prove that his GM was right to invest the significant dollars that he did. He’s also likely to want to prove that Tampa GM Steve Yzerman was wrong about him; whether it’s about trading him, not signing him, or bringing him up slowly, it appears that Drouin has a lengthy list of things he’d like to set straight in this case. While motivation alone does not ensure success, Drouin’s talent is undeniable, so perhaps this little push of motivation to accompany the skill-set that had him selected third overall will be at the advantage of the Montreal Canadiens. Fans should be expecting a low point production of 60 points all the way up to an 80-point season, much like Galchenyuk. Ideally, they’ll be putting up those points together and making Bergevin look like a genius for keeping both in Montreal.