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Is this Jonathan Drouin’s breakout year?

He faced a lot of criticism last year and in the off-season, but Drouin is silencing his doubters.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

The first two seasons of Jonathan Drouin in a Montreal Canadiens jersey were mediocre. He’s been called everything up to and including “overpaid,” and though he certainly isn’t overpaid with his $5.5 million cap hit in today’s market, not all of the criticism was without merit. He wasn’t living up to his billing.

Though he put up respectable point totals, he often looked bad away from the puck, tried to do too much with it, and was at times a defensive liability. There were flashes of a brilliant hockey player, but fans of the Tricolore were left wanting much more out of him.

So far this year, he’s giving it to them in spades.

He sought help from Dominique Ducharme in the offseason to go over film and identify ways that he could be a better player. That has obviously paid off, because he’s making far better decisions. He looks better without the puck, and isn’t trying to do too much with it. And he hasn’t lost an ounce of his electrifying skill, but figured out when and how to use it.

I think his second goal against the Leafs this past Saturday needs to be singled out. They were both breakaway efforts, but this was my personal favourite.

He’s well positioned to defend an eventual pass by Tyson Barrie at the blueline. But when Barrie himself can’t handle an incoming pass, Drouin pounces on the puck and is off to the races. He showed a bit of everything — positioning, anticipation, speed, and a pretty finish — giving his team an important cushion in a game they needed to win.

It feels like we’re watching a different player altogether this year. This is the player that Marc Bergevin believed he was getting when he traded Mikhail Sergachev to get him. This appears to be the realization of the potential that made him a third-overall draft pick. The skill was always there, he just needed some fine tuning.

With 10 points in 11 games, the early goings suggest he’s gotten it. And the underlying statistics support that as well — an even-strength Corsi-For of 53.14%, Goals for of 64.29%, and Scoring Chances For of 56.69% — he seems to have really turned a corner.

He’s getting heavy offensive minutes with 56.41% offensive zone starts at even-strength, but that over an entire year would be the second lowest he’s ever had, second only to last year. He’s the type of player you want more for offensive situations anyways, but comparatively he’s actually getting less of that than he’s used to through his career.

And he’s done all of this up and down the lineup. He started the year on the third trio, but was recently moved up to Max Domi’s wing. On the power play he has but one goal and one assist, but he has been a big part of what makes that unit dangerous this year. His versatility is a breath of fresh air, and he hasn’t missed a step no matter where he’s used.

His shooting percentage is perhaps the biggest point of concern in that it is prime for regression. He’s at an 18.5% clip right now, a far cry from his career 9.8%. That being said, with 27 shots on goal in 11 games, he’s on pace for a career high of just over 200 shots. He’s getting rubber on net better than ever, so even if his success rate starts to slide, the volume should lend itself to production.

HockeyViz

So should the quality of his shots, as you can see above. Take the Toronto game; two breakaway goals, which are obviously high percentage opportunities for most players, let alone those with the skills of Drouin. The breakaways obviously help, but he’s doing the bulk of his shooting in high-percentage areas.

It’s hard to argue that he can continue shooting above 18%, but regression can only knock him down so far when he’s shooting as much as he is, and from such dangerous areas. It’s a small sample, but I believe this is finally the beginning of Drouin’s big breakout year.

My bold preseason prediction of the year was that he’d end up leading the team in points. That might be tough with Domi and Brendan Gallagher right there with him at 10 points so far, but he’s definitely in the mix for the team’s scoring title.

Watching Drouin this year is a lot of fun, and as a fan, all you can hope is that he just keeps doing what he’s been doing.