Jonathan Drouin’s first season with the Habs didn’t go quite as well as many anticipated. Now with a year at his new position under his belt, is there cause for optimism that his production could improve in 2018-19?
The Habs acquired Drouin just before the draft in the hopes that he’d add another dimension to Montreal’s attack. However, they wound up losing Alexander Radulov in free agency which meant that Drouin was being asked to basically replace his impact (and try to improve on it). They also asked him to play down the middle, something he hadn’t done much of since junior. No pressure there.
While many were expecting an uptick in scoring, it didn’t happen as he posted his lowest goals per game rate since his rookie season (when he tallied all of four times). His playmaking wasn’t bad – he got a bit too pass-happy at times instead of using his above-average shot but his assist total was also penalized by the fact that the Habs couldn’t score to save their lives most nights.
Drouin struggled considerably in the defensive zone, especially at the beginning of the year as he was having difficulty adapting to his new responsibilities. He showed signs of improvement towards the end of the season but he still needs a lot of work. Accordingly, don’t be expecting to see him on the penalty kill or in late-game defensive situations anytime soon.
From the standpoint of point production, last season was a disappointment for Drouin. He was being counted on to be a go-to player and he wasn’t on most nights. Montreal will certainly be expecting more from him next year.
Season Stats: 77 GP, 13 goals, 33 assists, 46 points, -28 rating, 30 PIMS, 4 PPG, 4 GWG, 164 shots, 17:36 ATOI, 50.6 CF%
4 Year Averages
With the Habs failing to land one of John Tavares or Paul Stastny in free agency or anyone of consequence (such as Ryan O’Reilly) via a trade, it’s likely that Drouin will once again reprise his role down the middle. The Habs added more depth in Matthew Peca while bringing back Tomas Plekanec but if either of them play ahead of Drouin, something is seriously wrong.
Which line he plays on remains to be seen. It’s possible that Phillip Danault will be the de facto number one and draw the tougher defensive assignments which would allow Drouin to play more of an offensive-minded role, perhaps with newcomer Max Domi. Or, considering their lack of scoring depth, they could try to load up one line with their top offensive threats. Chances are that both of these will be tried at different points in the year which makes him a bit of a riskier bet in head-to-head leagues.
Last season, Drouin led all Montreal forwards in even strength and power play ATOI and there’s no reason to think that this won’t be the case again as he remains one of the focal points of the offence. (And if Max Pacioretty eventually does get dealt for a futures-based return, Drouin will pretty much become the focal point of the attack. Somehow, he could be under even more pressure next year.)
While there isn’t exactly a ton of optimism surrounding the Canadiens right now, there is a legitimate case to be made that Drouin will fare better next season. He’s going to be starting off at a better spot having had a full year under his belt at centre and he should be much better prepared for the extra responsibilities that come with it. It’s also hard to envision him scoring less next season; his 7.9 shooting percentage was considerably lower than the previous two campaigns. Things are looking up a little bit for him.
While this may make him seem like a sleeper pick, in theory, I wouldn’t go quite that far. I think he’s in line for a small uptick in his numbers but he’s not going to magically start producing like a high-end number one centre either. Expectations should be kept in check more than they were last year.
Given his assist-to-goal ratio, Drouin should be picked a little later in pools that put a higher emphasis on goal scoring. He should also be dropped in leagues that feature plus/minus as there’s a very good chance he’ll be well into the minus category once again. For leagues that feature faceoff stats, Drouin needs to be dropped even further. He was lousy at the dot last year and while a little bit of improvement is realistic, it’s probably still only going to be around the 45% range which will make him a negative in that category.
All in all, project him to be around 50-55 points and be pleasantly surprised if he outperforms that target. That makes him a mid-round pick in typical leagues and a little earlier than that in deeper ones.