For the first time in five years, there’s a new face atop our Top 25 Under 25. Jonathan Drouin may not have had the greatest debut season for the bleu-blanc-rouge, but he still remains one of the best players on the team. As a result, he’s the top man on our list.
As the saying goes: to whom much is given, much is tested.
Drouin was given a laundry list of expectations in his first season with the Montreal Canadiens. From a number-one centre role to expanded minutes on the power play, the newcomer was expected to be a big contributor for the team.
In some respects, he delivered. When paired with similarly skilled players, he showed that he could score and facilitate plays at both even strength and on the man advantage.
While his first-half stats left much to be desired, there were still slight improvements in the second half as he bumped his points-per-game average to 0.60, and ended the season with 25 points in his last 38 games.
But there were still some bad aspects to his play. He was supposed to be half of a one-two punch with winger Max Pacioretty, and after their season debut, it seemed promising.
Alas, the partnership of Pacioretty and Drouin was a failure. Drouin fared better playing alongside Artturi Lehkonen and the now departed Alex Galchenyuk.
The Canadiens were hard-pressed for Drouin to be a quick fix at the number-one centre position; a need that hasn’t been filled for quite some time. Later in the season, the team acknowledged that he’d be better off on the wing.
The 23-year-old was a near-unanimous selection for our top position. An overwhelming majority of members who submitted ballots voted him at number one (81%), and just one panellist had him at number two.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Drouin entered last year’s list as the second-best player, just behind Galchenyuk. It’s hard not to drool over the skill he flashed during his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is what pushed him into the top two in his first year.
There were brief moments during the season when Drouin truly looked like the most skilled player on the ice.
He’s a proven playmaker who can hold the puck on a string and feed to his teammates. He led the team in assists last season with 33; a career high.
He’s just as big of an asset when the team has an extra man on the ice, leading his team with 18 power-play assists.
Drouin came under fire for his giveaways and carelessness with the puck last season. No moment was more magnified than during the NHL 100 Outdoor Classic in Ottawa against the Ottawa Senators last December.
While his tally of giveaways was lower than in his final season in Tampa (65 in 2016-17, 58 in 2017-18), it wasn’t by much. If Drouin continues to carry the puck he will always be more likely to turn the puck over, but he can work to improve his puck security in transition.
Opposing teams had virtually open access to the slot when Drouin was on the ice last season. He’ll have to clean up his defensive play going forward if he wants to keep his centre positionm, but playing with more defensively responsible players like Lehkonen could help mitigate those issues.
He will also have to improve his faceoff winning percentage. He took more faceoffs than ever before last season, and ended up with a percentage of just 42.5%, which was lower than the previous season.
Drouin took fewer shots in 2017-18, but he also converted them into goals at a lower rate. While he’s been more effective in the slot, he’s shown to be able to score from the left circle. While it could be seen as predictable, if Drouin trusts his shot and uses it more from this area, it could result in a bump in offensive production.
Last season, we suggested Drouin would find success being linemates with either Galchenyuk or Pacioretty. With neither being a feasible option in 2018-19, the team can afford to run Drouin with Lehkonen, Paul Byron, or Brendan Gallagher — players with whom he saw success (and ice time) last season.
Having another season under his belt, combined with the knowledge gained from last season’s woes, could do some good for Drouin. If the Canadiens do right by him and don’t try to force the Pacioretty-Drouin combo work, that’s one less worry for the forward. He’s a talented player with a long career ahead of him.