MONTREAL - It was a blockbuster trade, and a homecoming for a young local star that was celebrated across Quebec. But in hockey, as in life, things don't always go quite the way you expect them to.
After landing with the Canadiens amid much fanfare, Jonathan Drouin made an immediate impact on his new club when he scored the shootout winner on a nifty fake in the Habs' first game of the year in Buffalo. The season was looking promising.
Video: MTL@BUF: Drouin nets sleek backhander in the shootout
But, as has already been well-documented, Drouin's squad would go on to stumble through the month of October, setting the stage for a disappointing campaign that left them out of the playoff hunt. And although Drouin himself recorded a commendable nine points through that first month of the season, he was also in the midst of coming to terms with his new role as a centerman - a position he hadn't played since his Junior days - and a chemistry experiment with captain Max Pacioretty that didn't yield the results he or the Canadiens were hoping for.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It could work next year. With some players, you click or you don't click, and there are times where you'll click in January, but it won't work in February," he said of playing with Pacioretty, who was paired with Drouin off and on for the first 20-odd games of the season before head coach Claude Julien separated his new centerman and perennial 30-plus goal scorer. "I think it's like that with everyone, until you find a guy you can really stay with."
It may have been difficult for Drouin to thrive as he learned the ins and outs of playing up the middle at the NHL level, but the former CHL Player of the Year always saw playing center as an opportunity to add more skill to his already impressive tool kit.
Video: MTL@CBJ: Drouin dangles, roofs breakaway goal
And by season's end, it's fair to say that the Sainte Agathe native did indeed become a better player for it. After winning 40.4% of his draws through his first 58 games of the season, Drouin's success rate in the dot shot up to 48.1% in his final 19. He also enjoyed a boost in production, putting up 14 points in that home stretch - amounting to 2.42 points per 60 minutes of ice time, vs. the 1.91 per 60 he averaged up until March 1.
"At the end of the season, I felt a lot more comfortable in the faceoff circle. I'm happy to have that in my repertoire," affirmed Drouin, who finished with 46 points (13G, 33A) in 77 games, the second-best totals of his young career to date. "Whether I'm on the wing or at center in September, I'm not the one who decides, but I'm happy to have the two options."
The uptick in Drouin's personal stats as a centerman isn't the only cause for optimism as the Habs look to next season. The 23-year-old's association with Pacioretty might not have panned out in 2017-18, but a deeper look at the numbers suggests that Drouin was a positive influence on the team's Top-2 goal scorers, Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron, especially as the season wound down.
Corsi and Fenwick are two stats which measure shot attempts (Corsi counts goals, shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots; Fenwick includes all except for blocked shots). When expressed as a percentage (CF% = Corsi For, FF% = Fenwick For), they measure a team's share of all shot attempts in a game, with the premise being that a team with a higher Corsi or Fenwick is likely controlling the play and generating more offense than their opponent.
|Full season ||Mar. 1 - |
| ||DROUIN-GALLAGHER: |
|Full season ||Mar. 1 - |
|P1 ||P2 ||CF% ||FF% ||CF% ||FF% || ||P1 ||P2 ||CF% ||FF% ||CF% ||FF% |
|Drouin ||Byron ||53.13 ||53.06 ||56.27 ||54.98 || ||Drouin ||Gallagher ||56.29 ||55.25 ||55.76 ||54.41 |
|Drouin ||w/o Byron ||49.57 ||48.33 ||50.65 ||48.39 || ||Drouin ||w/o Gallagher ||48.41 ||47.54 ||46.03 ||43.64 |
|w/o Drouin ||Byron ||49.35 ||49.42 ||38.78 ||43.06 || ||w/o Drouin ||Gallagher ||53.59 ||54.85 ||41.18 ||43.59 |
Stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com
Using data from the above tables (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com), it can be construed that Drouin had a positive impact on both Gallagher and Byron because the team's share of 5-on-5 shot attempts was significantly higher when he was on the ice with them. This was especially pronounced in that final 19-game period from March 1-April 8 - when, unlike earlier in the season, Drouin's own impact on team Corsi and Fenwick was higher than either Byron's or Gallagher's on their own - but all season long, Drouin's work with both players created a synergy which helped the Habs.
Keeping in mind that Gallagher scored 10 of his career-high 31 goals over the last 19 games of the season and that Byron collected nine of his 35 points in that same span - and that Drouin had three first assists and two second assists on those 10 Gallagher goals - it's safe to assume that the pair benefitted from flanking Drouin, which was largely the case during the final quarter of the 2017-18 campaign.
Video: MTL@DET: Gallagher, Drouin combine for smooth goal
Whatever happens come September, Drouin can take some comfort in numbers that show he should be an integral component of the team's turnaround effort. A homegrown star, he may have felt more than his share of the pressure that comes with playing in Montreal, but Drouin affirms he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I enjoyed it all, I was happy to come to the rink," he shared after his inaugural season back home. "I find myself to be very lucky to play at the Bell Centre; I'm a Quebecer, it's a huge honor.
"It was a learning year, it was my first year in Montreal, I was playing center. I should be more consistent next year," concluded Drouin. "I learned a lot of things, and I'm ready for next season."
Video: Jonathan Drouin on his first year in Montreal