BROSSARD - We just discovered that Ilya Kovalchuk has another admirer in the Canadiens' locker room.
Jonathan Drouin, who was sporting a regular practice jersey during Tuesday's on-ice session, is inching closer to returning to active duty.
The Sainte-Agathe native has missed the last 32 games with a wrist injury that required surgery.
Drouin is eager to get back to work, and the opportunity to play with Kovalchuk is a big reason why.
"He was one of my hockey idols growing up. I would watch him all the time when he was playing with the Atlanta Thrashers," mentioned Drouin. "Since he got here, I've been really looking forward to playing with him on the power play. I'm really looking forward to coming back and playing again."
Drouin was enjoying a strong campaign before suffering the injury on November 15 against the Washington Capitals. The third-overall selection of the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2013 had seven goals and 15 points in 19 games.
While Drouin's return is approaching, he's still awaiting the green light from team doctors. On Wednesday, the Canadiens will decide if he'll accompany the squad to Buffalo ahead of Thursday night's matchup against the Sabres.
The winger is still experiencing some discomfort, but he feels ready to play.
"There are some movements that are still sensitive. It's all part of my rehab. I feel comfortable battling with other guys," explained Drouin. "It's good progress."
The Habs' position in the standings has also changed since Drouin went down.
On November 15, Claude Julien's contingent sat second in the Atlantic Division with 25 points courtesy of an 11-5-3 record. Now, they find themselves 10 points back of the final playoff spot.
Drouin stressed that he would've liked to help his teammates right the ship a lot earlier.
"It's frustrating. I couldn't help my team for eight weeks. We need points and we're fighting with other teams for a playoff spot. Every game I watched was harder and harder for me," said Drouin. "It's tough, but it's part of hockey. It was disappointing that I couldn't help my team."
More good news for Gallagher
Like Drouin, forward Brendan Gallagher took part in Tuesday's practice with the rest of the group.
He was also sporting a regular practice jersey.
Gallagher has missed the last six games with headaches.
The 27-year-old Edmonton native indicated that his status improved dramatically in recent days.
"I've been headache-free since some point during the bye week, so it's been a little while now. The headaches were there for a few days, and then after a couple of days it would come and go, come and go," explained Gallagher, who has 15 goals and 32 points in 41 games this season. "But, they've been gone for good since early in the bye week."
It remains to be seen, however, if Gallagher will play versus Buffalo.
"I haven't gotten word on that. It's at the point where it's just really been day by day. I'm sure Thursday morning I'll be able to take the pregame skate and a decision will be made then," said Gallagher. "Until then, it's really day by day and just go from there."
Video: Brendan Gallagher on his recovery and possible return
The Canadiens will practice again on Wednesday at the Bell Sports Complex before heading to Western New York.