Soft, inconsistent and poor defensively.
Those have been the main knocks on Jonathan Drouin throughout his NHL career. As a former third overall NHL draft pick who was chosen ahead of Seth Jones in the terrific draft 2013 draft class, more has been expected from the former QMJHL playoff legend.
Drouin rose above all other juniors in a three-year stretch where he was one of the most dominant playoff performers in CHL history. When you score 102 points in 50 career junior playoff games, the expectation is that you won’t have a “soft” label at the NHL level. Such has not been the case.
It seems like Drouin’s name can’t be brought up without it being noted that he is, and always will be, a defensive liability, and that we just need to accept that “fact”.
It is a relative certainty that Jonathan Drouin will never be a finalist for the Selke Award as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Drouin lacks the size, strength and mindset to ever be an elite puck battler.
What is debatable is the “soft” label he continues to carry around eight years into his NHL career. In the past couple of years, in particular, when he was healthy enough to play, Drouin’s effort away from the puck was noticeably improved. Was he consistently competitive and did he win more battles than he lost? No – as noted earlier, as an undersized forward, Drouin is not likely to ever be a defensive force.
Drouin’s improvements away from the puck have been forgotten by many because they came at the beginning of the past two seasons. Memories tend to fade, but Drouin was one of Montreal’s more consistent forwards at the beginning of both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. He was at the top in points per game on the Canadiens both seasons before running into some injury issues.
Drouin was not shy about going after pucks in the 81 games he played in those two campaigns. He didn’t often engage fiercely or make the smartest play once he got there but no one could accuse him of being tentative about chasing loose pucks along the boards, and that is demonstrated in this video:
Drouin was not reticent to forecheck and backcheck in the past two seasons. Did he win most of his puck battles? He did not. He did win more than he used to, however, and the number of careless own-zone passes has also been reduced as he’s matured and learned to be more willing to take the hit to make the right play.
Drouin made some adjustments to his defensive approach well before new coach Marty St. Louis came into the picture. Let’s see what Marty can do with Drouin to help him adjust even more. St. Louis managed to win a lot of puck battles through sheer determination as a 5-8 forward in a league filled with 6-3 defencemen.
It’s not like Drouin is a skinny kid – he has some muscle on his frame, as did Marty. Perhaps he can inspire/teach Drouin to win more puck battles as he finally gets to work with him at season’s start. Who knows – maybe he’s been working with him throughout the summer as well – its not like they are world’s apart.
Will Drouin get a long look with Kirby Dach? It’s possible. He may also line up beside Christian Dvorak. Both are good along the wall, Dvorak in particular.
Drouin won’t have to turn into Marty St. Louis to click with either center, but finding the right linemates for Drouin has been a puzzle that no other coach could solve. The club will be hoping that he can finally find some chemistry with a linemate and reach a points-per-game level that has long been expected but never realized. Both coach and pupil know that it’s more than likely his last chance.