Since the Habs traded for him in 2017, there has arguably not been a single player on the team who has been scrutinized more than Jonathan Drouin. Not even Carey Price. It seems like everything Drouin does is placed under a microscope. Granted, it doesn’t help that the player who was sent the other way, Mikhail Sergachev, seems to be carving himself out a nice career.
I want to start off by saying that I am not oblivious, although I know some of my hockey takes may say otherwise. I understand why many who have not already given up on him, are giving him this upcoming season as a kind of a “put up or shut up” type of year. I agree, at times he can be infuriating to watch. Even as someone who actively tries to defend him, I find myself time and time again at a loss for words.
That being said, we need to remember that hockey is a team sport. The moment a player stumbles, people often tend to forget that fact. This is an issue because when it comes to certain players, who they are playing with makes all the difference (insert mental image of Chris Kunitz playing for Team Canada). Unfortunately, for Drouin it has taken longer than anticipated to find the right linemates that help compliment his style of play. At the moment though, it appears that he and Suzuki have a nice thing going on. Suzuki seems to be the type of player Drouin needs. He is offensively savvy, has the IQ to keep up, all the while being reliable in the defensive zone. This gives Jo the possibility to cheat a bit more defensively without leaving the Habs as exposed. The two looked brilliant together in the bubble, tying each other for the team lead in points with 7 a pop. There is a glimmer of hope as Suzuki may finally be the missing piece for Drouin that was sorely needed. Having said that, I will remain cautiously optimistic for the time being… which is something I have had to learn the hard way being a Habs fan. I would like to see more before coming down with a final verdict.
Additionally, incorporating Andersen into that duo can help elevate their line as well. On paper, a player with his combination of both size and speed should fit in perfectly and give them both the time and space they need to get to work. The reality is, Drouin has shown that he cannot drive his own line, that he cannot be “the guy” on his line. Which is primarily why he never worked out at center. He needs a sidekick if you will, somebody to make up for his shortcomings, which is fine really. When you think about it, most players around the league are the same. With this kind of player you have two options; either you call it a day and give up or you work around what he needs to succeed. Considering his skill and caliber, I personally chose the latter every single time.
Another aspect of Drouin’s gameplay to consider is his confidence. Now don’t get me wrong, I know this can be an exhausting debate for many as there are no actual ways to measure any of it. However, I really do believe that the mental aspect of the game is always important to take into consideration. This is especially true with a player whose game is so visibly impacted by it as Drouin. He is a hometown kid (which adds its own level of pressure), who was traded with the hopes that he could become the dynamic offensive player this team so clearly needed. When he is on his game, he can be exactly that! He can be the best player on the ice. Where the issue lies is that when he is off his game and in his head, he can be downright detrimental to his team. He forces passes, he tries to make unnecessary moves and overall becomes a guy who barely looks like an NHLer. Outside of goaltenders, I cannot think of many players around the league who are as visibly affected by this side of the game as Drouin.
Some people simply chalk it up to his effort, they assume that he simply just does not care. To those people however, I would direct you to the video of him whiffing on a penalty shot to beat the Penguins in the play-in round. He was downright disgusted with himself. Then, moments later after the Petry overtime winner, he was the guy on the ice with the biggest smile on his face. That or the memory of him nearly being brought to tears from the standing ovation he received after the Habs beat the St Louis Blues 6-3 in 2019. Finally, mix that all in with the fact that he was the one who approached the Canadiens coaching staff about wanting to become a better player prior to the 2019-2020 season, and all signs point to a guy who cares, a lot. I am not saying that he never takes a shift off or anything of the sorts, he can be very guilty of that at times. I simply think it’s worth mentioning that the “they just don’t care” argument can be, while valid at times, also used as a blanket statement to sum up pro-athletes’ shortcomings. There is usually much more to it.
At the end of the day, I get why Drouin can be infuriating to watch. Like I mentioned, he can at times look so lackadaisical that it’s painful. However, when you take the sport of hockey at its roots and the raw skills that are required to play, I would argue that there is not another player on the team who is at Drouin’s level. At least at the moment. This is precisely why you keep him on. If you can find a way to not only compliment him in the areas that he is lacking, but also amplify the talent that he so clearly has, there is no reason why he can’t be a very important piece of the Habs.