The GM nicknamed “Bargain Bin” by some vitriolic Habs fans because he supposedly acquires just fourth liners went a long way towards dispelling that myth yesterday when he dealt for a forward that may indeed become the most electrifying French-Canadian player since the Patrick Roy/Stephane Richer Stanley Cup era.
Jonathan Drouin saw a dream come true when the Canadiens moved 2016 ninth-overall pick Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2018 second-round pick to Tampa Bay for the super-skilled Montreal-native and conditional sixth round pick.
Tampa was facing some issues when it came to protecting forwards for the expansion draft this weekend, and Montreal GM Marc Bergevin saw an opportunity to add a forward that will be handed the offensive mantel for a Habs team long thought to be short on top-line creative talent.
“Great move for both teams”, said Ottawa 67’s coach Andre Tourigny, who coached several of Tampa Bay’s talented forwards during his QMJHL days and faced Drouin when he was tearing up the Q as a member of the Halifax Mooseheads.
“Super smart by Tampa. They create cap space they needed to keep Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and others. They create room on their expansion protection list for Namestnikov. And the most important thing, they got a young stud in the back end which they didn’t have. Now they got one.”
Sergachev showcased his talents to the hockey world at the Memorial Cup championship, anchoring a defence that surprised the experts and won the Cup as the underdog host team. His value was at a premium, and when it became apparent that Tampa GM Steve Yzerman was willing to move the coveted piece Bergevin wanted in return he dealt his most valuable prospect, one only a few weeks was described by Bergevin on more than one occasion to be “untouchable.”
So what brought on the change of heart?
“Montreal, they needed offense,” reasoned Tourigny. “He is a top end French kid and he loves the pressure. It’s a perfect fit for them. Also… they have room on their expansion draft protected list. And he is 22, ready to help right away. It was perfect for both teams.”
Indeed…Drouin is just 22 and entering his prime, and the Habs were quick to work out a deal with his agent Allan Walsh before officially agreeing to the trade…a six-year deal at 5.5M per season that at the very least will keep Drouin in his hometown until he turns 28 at the very least.
There has been criticism raised about Bergevin once again doing a one-on-one deal in which the player coming back was a few years older after picking up Shea Weber or PK Subban last year, but Drouin is just starting his career; he could be a difference maker for a decade or more with the club he grew up idolizing. If he fulfills his high-end upside, the organization will make sure he ends up a Hab well past this 28th birthday.
That upside is palpable and was finally displayed at the NHL level in the 2016 playoffs when the reins were taken off and he showed Tampa coach Jon Cooper just what he’s capable of by producing 14 points in 17 games and scoring some highlight-reel goals.
His playoff breakthrough was so impressive that he was invited to play in the World Cup for the Young Guns team over a 30-goal scorer by the name of Alex Galchenyuk. Ironically, it may be Drouin’s acquisition that ultimately leads to Galchenyuk’s move out of Montreal with the Habs bringing in a former third-overall pick in Drouin to replace another former third-overall pick in Galchenyuk.
His playoff performance in 2016 came as no surprise for those who saw him perform in three QMJHL playoff runs for the Mooseheads. Drouin is the only CHL player in recent memory to accumulate more than 100 playoff points in a three-year span, running roughshod over opposing defences as he showed everyone just how capable he was of stepping up in big moments.
“He wasn’t just sensational in the playoffs…he was sensational all the time,” said Tourigny who coached in Rouyn-Noranda when Drouin was tearing up the QMJHL.
Hw may have been dangerous throughout the season, but some of Drouin’s performances versus Quebec and Gatineau in the 2013 and 2014 playoffs were legendary…his stickhandling, passing and shooting drawing “oohs” and “aws” from opposing fans who knew they were witnessing true artistry. One NHL scout made a point of bringing his son to see Drouin on a school night in Hull in 2014 “because it was going to be his last chance to see the most exciting junior” in recent times.
Drouin hit the 20-goal and 50-point mark for the first time in his NHL career this past season as Cooper finally rewarded him top six ice time and plenty of work on the powerplay, especially after Steven Stamkos went down with an injury.
“He is going to be the guy in Montreal,” said one NHL scout who in 2013 had Drouin ranked ahead of Nathan MacKinnon because he thought he had greater offensive upside. “They will run the powerplay through him…and he’ll love playing there I think. A great trade for Montreal..they get a French-Canadian to excite the fan base..and he’ll be motivated. He can be like Sergachev in that he can be too casual at times, but I think playing in Montreal will help with that.”
It’s been more than two decades since Montreal traded for a French-Canadian player who can have a true impact on the team – not since Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse were acquired 23 and 25 years ago respectively has there been a supremely talented Quebecois in his prime picked up to excite the fan base and help the team win…Bergevin hoping in the playoffs, where Drouin’s penchant for stepping up production-wise would have been most welcomed in Montreal’s first-round loss to the Rangers in April.
It will be interesting to see where Drouin ends up playing with the Habs as there is a desperate need to fill the first-line center spot with an elite talent..something which hasn’t really been the case since…well…Turgeon or Damphousse. Drouin has played on the wing predominantly for the past few seasons, but in minor hockey he played center most of the time, and he also saw time in the middle with Halifax, Syracuse in the AHL and on occasion in Tampa.
Opinions are mixed on whether center is the ideal spot for him as there are questions with his defensive zone play, size and consistency, but there are certainly elements of his game that would be suited to the middle, including his puck possession abilities, vision, passing skills and hockey sense.
“I think he can play center in Montreal,” said one scout. “He likes to roam, hold onto the puck…find the open man. I think he likes the wing because he can concentrate on offence, and he probably has to play more consistently to be a center, but he has the talent to do it.”
Much will depend on Galchenyuk. If he remains with the team..will he be given another shot as center? Does the club envision him on a line with Drouin? If, as the rumours suggest, Galchenyuk is dealt…will it be a top-two center so that Drouin stays on the wing?
Stay tuned. The off-season intrigue in Habsland is just beginning.