BROSSARD - Jonathan Drouin has been waiting impatiently for the moment to arrive, and it looks like his wait is finally coming to an end.
The Sainte-Agathe native skated on a regular line at practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Friday. And with Tomas Tatar out with flu-like symptoms, Drouin found himself on the first line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher.
The left winger, who hasn't played since November 15 in Washington with a wrist injury, was also slotted in on the first power play unit.
Drouin says he's doing better, but he's still not quite ready to return.
"There are still some little things that are bothering me. But I feel pretty good and I'm getting closer to a return," explained Drouin, who had collected seven goals for 15 points in 19 games before getting hurt. "We'll see tomorrow morning. Today was a good day. It's really the only thing I can say. I had a good practice and I felt good. We'll look at the situation tomorrow."
Video: Jonathan Drouin on his health status
For his part, the head coach confirmed during his press conference that the injury itself had healed.
"It was an injury that required surgery. The decision to come back belongs to the player. We can't force a guy to play if he isn't comfortable," mentioned Claude Julien. "We've confirmed with the doctors that everything is good; his injury has healed. It's up to the player to make the decision about when to return. We're waiting to hear from Jonathan."
Video: Claude Julien's post-practice press conference
The Tampa Bay Lightning's third-overall pick in 2013 recognizes it's been a frustrating season.
Before Drouin's injury, the Canadiens were second in the Atlantic Division with an 11-5-3 record, good for 25 points in 19 games.
The forward is certainly chomping at the bit to help his team, and he's also pumped to hit the ice with one of his childhood heroes.
"It's been a long year for me. I don't really have control over anything except my recovery. It helps to take part in practices and be with the guys," expressed Drouin after Friday's practice on the South Shore. "I haven't played with Ilya Kovalchuk yet, so I'm excited to get back. Impatient would be the right word."
Speaking of Kovalchuk, defenseman Xavier Ouellet - who was recalled from the Laval Rocket on Thursday morning - is also impressed by the 36-year-old forward.
The Russian winger seems to have found himself a new fan.
"It's pretty impressive to see him work so hard. He's always one of the first to arrive. He has a big smile and he's happy playing hockey. It's fun to see. He's an incredible leader," outlined Ouellet of Kovalchuk, who has five goals for 11 points in 14 games with the Canadiens. "I've only been here for two days, but it jumps out at me. I think he's had a good impact in the room."
Video: Ilya Kovalchuk on experiencing the MTL-TOR rivalry
Flu strikes again
Several Habs are still dealing with the effects of the flu bug that's been going around.
That's still the case for Jordan Weal, Ryan Poehling, and Victor Mete. Tomas Tatar has also joined the list, even if he was able to play in Thursday night's game against the Anaheim Ducks at the Bell Centre.
The veteran bench boss took some time to highlight Tatar's performance against the Ducks.
"The same players are still affected by the flu. In Tatar's case, we have to give him credit. He wanted to play yesterday and he did well," said Julien. "Today was a good opportunity to give him some rest, because he lost a lot of energy. We want to make sure he's in the best possible shape for tomorrow."
As for what his lineup will look like for Saturday's tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre, Julien said that nothing has been firmed up just yet.
"I haven't made any final decisions, because we have surprises every day. It's tough for me to announce my lineup today for tomorrow because with the flu, it changes by the hour," he explained.
For his part, Ouellet feels he's ready to jump in if his coach gives him the nod.
"I'm ready to play. I'm here to do what they ask of me. It's going to be a huge game tomorrow," affirmed Ouellet, who was leading Rocket defensemen in goals (9) and points (24) at the time of his call-up. "A home game against a team in the same division. It's going to be fun."
The Canadiens face the Leafs at 7:00 p.m. at the Bell Centre. For tickets to the game, click here.