Finding the best line configurations for Jonathan Drouin
Marc Bergevin now has the pieces. How should they be arranged?
On Thursday, Marc Bergevin shook the hockey world by acquiring Jonathan Drouin, an extremely talented young forward with an elite ceiling, to add some much needed flair, creativity, and potency to the Canadiens’ average-at-best offense.
Drouin arrives as the Canadiens’ forward corps is in a state of flux, with the futures of two top-6 players with the club in question and no player definitively penciled in any specific position except maybe Max Pacioretty as the 1st line left winger. Where can Drouin fit into this highly fluid situation?
Drouin’s deployment track-record
In Tampa Bay, Drouin played an average of roughly 18 minutes a night, putting him on the second line behind Nikita Kucherov and a rotating group of friends (Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat by the end of the season). However, that 18 minutes a night would have placed him 3rd in TOI on the 2016-17 Montreal Canadiens, behind only Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov.
Drouin is capable of playing big minutes in a top-6 role, and he can also do it on either wing. While playing as a left winger for the majority of the season, he also played roughly 10 games as a right winger, and even dabbled for six games as a centre (where he accumulated 6 points, although 3 were in a single game).
As perhaps expected, Drouin received an offensive-oriented zone start deployment. However, he wasn’t sheltered, receiving roughly the same amount of defensive zone starts per 100 shifts as the likes of Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Palat, and Valtteri Filppula (red box in the image below). Drouin’s even deployment allowed head coach Jon Cooper to promote the offensive talents of Point, Kucherov, Alex Killorn, and Vladislav Namestnikov (blue box).
What are Drouin’s on-ice tendencies?
Having established that Drouin is an all-around player who can log above-average minutes in most score and zone situations, let’s look at what he does when he’s on the ice. Drouin’s possession numbers are middling to above-average. His 55.15 5v5 CF60 was 8th among Tampa forwards (200 min TOI cutoff), and his CF60 relative to his own team was 9th (-0.16). His shot suppression game is solid, with his 51.06 5v5 CA60 ranking 5th (CA60rel: -1.98, rank: 4th). These combine for an above average CF60% of 51.9% (CF60%rel: 0.9), good for 7th on the team among forwards.
Somewhat unusual for a winger, Drouin is more of a playmaker than a sniper – but he’s an elite level playmaker. When he does shoot, Drouin’s shot location heat map shows that most of his shots come from the slot area, with a slight favouritism towards the faceoff dot due to his role as a winger (image below). Drouin is clearly not afraid to go to the net, but isn’t a pure crease crasher – most of his shots come from that sweet spot a few feet out, rather than the top of the blue paint.
In addition, Tampa Bay as a team generated a significantly above league-average number of shots from the slot area with Drouin on the ice – a systemic trend that bodes exceptionally well for Drouin in a Claude Julien system (left image below). With the Boston Bruins, Julien tended to promote more shot generation from the slot area (centre image below), whereas Michel Therrien’s teams generated relatively more shots from the net-front and perimeter (right image below).
On a team with Steven Stamkos, it can be forgiven that Drouin’s powerplay role might fly a little under the radar. On the PP though, Drouin can play both playmaker and sniper, providing a one-timer option in Stamkos’ wheelhouse at the faceoff dot.
In fact, Drouin’s shot profiles (image below, left) are similar to Stamkos’ (image below, right) at both ES and on the PP. Whether that’s a systemic by-product or a result of similarities in the playing styles of both players, it can only be a good thing for a Montreal team starving for slot-based offense.
Where should Drouin play?
Drouin is clearly a versatile player who is best on the left wing, but can play right wing or even centre if the situation demands. Given this, Drouin’s best position in the Montreal lineup is not reliant on the player’s own abilities, but on which of Montreal’s free agent forwards are retained.
If Montreal elects to resign Radulov alone, Drouin would likely compete with the Russian for the 1RW position or find himself as the 2LW. The latter is more likely as the former would bump Brendan Gallagher to the 3RW slot. However, without Galchenyuk, the Habs would be extremely weak down the middle, and Drouin at the 2LW position means that Tomas Plekanec will be the 2C as it stands. If Drouin is given the opportunity to play centre, it opens the possibility of a Pacioretty-Drouin-Radulov, Artturi Lehkonen/Paul Byron- Phillip Danault-Gallagher top 6 arrangement.
However, Drouin at C comes with the same caveats as Galchenyuk at C. While Galchenyuk has played almost a full NHL season at the position, Drouin’s experience amounts to a handful of games. Neither Drouin (115 wins, 145 losses, 44.2%) nor Galchenyuk (779 wins, 932 losses, 45.5%) has exhibited any real prowess in the faceoff circle, indicating some degree of sheltering will likely be required. Drouin does have significantly better 5v5 shot suppression numbers than the American, which will provide Julien with a degree of comfort, but is not a polished complete 200-foot player at the moment by any means. Fortunately, Julien’s patience and Drouin’s status will likely give the 22-year-old a long leash for any learning curve process at the centre position.
If Montreal re-signs Galchenyuk and not Radulov, this opens up more potential fits for Drouin. The possibility exists for a Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Drouin line, which would be, from an offensive perspective, the likes of which not witnessed in Montreal for a decade. Alternatively, Pacioretty-Danault-Drouin and Lehkonen-Galchenyuk-Gallagher could be used for a more balanced approach, giving both lines defensive cover and reuniting a Galchenyuk-Gallagher combo that has worked wonders in the past.
Drouin could also be used as a 2LW, resulting in Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Gallagher, which has been successful in previous years, with Drouin-Danault-Lehkonen, as complete a two-way line as Montreal can put together.
A more fanciful scenario is the possibility of playing both Galchenyuk and Drouin as centres. This would amplify the problems mentioned previously, but also give the Canadiens immediate offensive punch and depth at the C position. This arrangement would create a hole at LW, one that could be filled by Charles Hudon, who appears ready to make the jump to the NHL.
Finally, the most ideal solution for the Canadiens, but one that may not be possible under the salary cap, may be to keep both Galchenyuk and Radulov. This allows for Pacioretty-Galchenyuk-Gallagher, Drouin-Danault-Radulov or some permutation thereof, instantly giving the Habs a top 6 ranking among the league’s elite. The 3rd line of Lehkonen-Plekanec-Andrew Shaw offers a solid two-way option to supplement the offense from the top 6, and a 4th line populated by necessity with the likes of Byron, Torrey Mitchell, Michael McCarron, and Hudon gives the Habs absolutely phenomenal depth.
The Montreal Canadiens find themselves with their most potent offensive corps in the salary cap era, and potentially beyond. That said, this forward group may not survive the week in their current incarnation, as trade rumours continue to swirl around Galchenyuk, Radulov’s contract negotiations are nebulous at best, and Hudon remains a potential target for the Vegas Golden Knights. Nonetheless, Marc Bergevin has given Claude Julien the keys to a very powerful offensive vehicle. One should be optimistic at what the experienced bench boss can accomplish in the upcoming season.