Learning on the Fly

Credit: National Post

2017-18 Season to Date

To say that the 2017-18 season has been a roller-coaster ride for the Habs would be a vast understatement. From an underwhelming off-season which saw a virtual complete overhaul of the team’s defensive corpse to the lack of scoring, this has been a disappointing season to date. The positive thing for Habs fans, is that there have been at the very least a few bright spots. The play of Charles Hudon, Brendan Gallagher’s resurgence¬†and the development of Victor Mete (even though he is being loaned to Canada and may go back to junior, he is much further along in his development than your average 19-year-old former 4th round pick) to name a few. However, the flip side is that a team that got off to one of its worst historical starts in its over 100 year history and is fighting for a playoff spot (in a horrible division) will have plenty of flaws. The aforementioned lack of scoring, while there are several factors at play, can largely be attributed to the lack of puck movers on the top half of the defensive core. Arguably, the Habs have zero top-3 calibre puck moving defensemen (Jeff Petry, is at best a solid #4). Another flaw, as mentioned a few weeks back by Ray Ferraro, is that the team has the worst depth at center in the entire league. A third flaw and the focus of this article has been the misuse of certain players by being forced to play them out of position.

No, this is not another post beating a dead horse regarding a certain talented American-Russian forward on the team. Instead the focus is on one of the newest members of the Habs, Jonathan Drouin. On June 15th of this passed summer, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin pulled off a blockbuster trade, acquiring Drouin for stud defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev (conditional picks were also exchanged). While there is no doubt that Drouin possesses elite-level talent, the trade was scrutinized by many. To most, the biggest hole in the Canadiens’ roster at the time of the trade (and it still is) was at the center position. So, why did Bergevin trade his best asset for a winger? A position that the Habs arguably have pretty good depth in?

Fast forward to training camp and we found our answer. After having played the center position during minor hockey and one season in the QMJHL for the Halifax Mooseheads, the Canadiens declared Drouin as their #1 center as soon as training camp opened. In his (parts of) three seasons in Tampa Bay, Drouin played almost exclusively on the wing. This is the first time that he has ever played center in the NHL, meaning he is more or less learning the position on the fly. Even for a player as talented as Drouin is, the center position is (arguably) the most difficult position to master at the NHL level. For a player that is seen by most as a winger, that is a lot to ask.

With that taken into consideration, Drouin has played relatively well for the most part. His offensive numbers, more specifically his goal scoring have gone down from what he produced last season. There are several factors at play here, such as a recent injury that he played through (and missed some games) and that the Lightning of last season were a higher scoring team than the Habs of this year. While his teammates play a decent role in his lack of production, learning how to play this new position at the NHL level is potentially the main reason. Head coach Claude Julien expects strong two-way play from all of his centers and Drouin is not the exception. With emphasis on defensive play from the coach, Drouin has to dedicate much of his efforts each shift on this aspect of the game. Meaning, he doesn’t have as much energy per shift to do what he does best (produce offense) like he would if he were playing on the wing.

Personally, I have seen enough of Drouin at the center position to say that I don’t think he’ll ever be the true #1 center that the Habs have desperately needed for the last twenty or so years. The unfortunate thing about the way the Habs are currently built, is that he is the only option to play that top offensive center position on the current roster. Yes, I know that the aforementioned Russian-American forward is also on the roster, but the team’s management and coaching staff are well documented in their stubbornness to even consider him for the position.¬†With that being said, unless a move is made to bring in a center from the outside, it appears as though Jonathan Drouin will remain the team’s top center. Because of how talented he is and how hard it is to adapt to a new position (let alone center) at the NHL level, maybe he will eventually “figure it out”. Or, maybe he’ll continue to struggle to put up the offensive numbers that he is capable of due to the added defensive responsibilities that playing center under Claude Julien comes with. Only time will tell, but with the way this season has gone, the team simply does not have the time to allow him to go through the growing pains if they want to make the playoffs.

Bottom line, the Habs have an offensive beast in Drouin that is just waiting to be unleashed. We’re talking about a 22 year old player coming off of a 21 goal, 53 point season after putting up 14 points in 17 playoff games. The talent is definitely there, the only way to unleash said beast would be by putting him in a position where his main focus can be about offense. In order to do so, a move must be made in the coming months to acquire a center to relieve Drouin of his defensive responsibilities. While acquiring a center is much easier said than done, as Bergevin loves to remind us, GMs like David Poile and Ray Shero have proven that it is something that can be done. Both of those guys knew their teams lacked depth at center and both of them went out and acquired top-6 calibre players to fill the void. Marc Bergevin, the ball is now in your court. You’ve had six years to figure it out and there are no more excuses left. It’s time to either get the job done, or to find someone else that can.


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3 Responses to Learning on the Fly

  1. well as of now Drouin can’t score,can’t win face offs, can’t carry the puck,can’t play defensively but yet he is still a center…he will be ruined b4 he learns the position..he needs to be on the wings. the problem is Julien is not the proper coach for this team…he was a panic choice by Bergevin…Gallant would have been better… plus like Seguin in Boston who he ruined Julien is destined to ruin Chucky…and why does Pacs not get penalized for being a shadow…now with Weber out we have a 1980 defense on a 2017 team….Bergevin also said it is hard to get puck movers but in last 2 years lost PK,Beaulieu,Sergechev,Rads and Markov

    Bay_Bye December 21, 2017 at 3:50 pm Reply
  2. Definitely Bargan-nvin should be gone, but it won’t happen. This organisation, as of today, put more emphases on profitability than winning; they think playoffs as a mean to look nice, BUT more important to reach for more money.
    Also, they proved to put friendship and origin before that illusive cup.
    Probably we would have been better with Sergachev and Radulov in their roles, than we are with Druin. And I have all the respect for Druin, as a player. (On which I share your opinion: he’s not a center, at least center is not in his best interest).
    BUT, he wouldn’t be here if he weren’t a Quebecois…
    Today’s CH is MONEY before the cup!

    Cristian Moldovan December 22, 2017 at 7:20 am Reply
  3. as long as Molson’s bank account is healthy he will do nothing as he cares not about winning just filling the Molson Center and selling merchandise. the last time he sold the team he was starting to lose money in the beer business so abandoned the Habs to concentrate on sales….now he is raking in a fortune so expect no changes

    Bay_Bye December 22, 2017 at 9:29 am Reply

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