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Canadiens hoping Drouin can spark offense

Expect addition of forward, reworked defense will lead to deep playoff run

by Sean Farrell / Correspondent

The Montreal Canadiens are looking to Jonathan Drouin to provide a spark they hope will lead to more timely offense.

The cost of acquiring the 22-year-old forward in a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15 was Montreal's top prospect, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who was the No. 9 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. 

But the opportunity to add one of the most talented young Quebec-born players in the NHL proved irresistible to general manager Marc Bergevin. The Canadiens have won one Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2014, when they reached the Eastern Conference Final.

Drouin has moved to center and will play on the top line with left wing Max Pacioretty, who had one assist in a six-game loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference First Round, when Montreal scored 11 goals. Their offensive contributions will be crucial after right wing Alexander Radulov left to sign with the Dallas Stars. Drouin is day to day with an upper-body injury, but coach Claude Julien isn't concerned and said the forward is out as a precaution. 

The Canadiens signed 34-year-old right wing Ales Hemsky to replace a bit of the offense they lost with Radulov's departure, and defensemen Karl Alzner, David Schlemko and Mark Streit also were added with the entire left side of the defense needing to be replaced with Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin and Nathan Beaulieu leaving.

"You've got to find your identity and our team's identity has always been speed, working hard and being a good forechecking team, and trying to play teams that way," right wing Brendan Gallagher said. "And regardless of the new bodies that come in, you know, they're going to play different ways, but I think it's still going to be our identity as a hockey team and what the Montreal Canadiens are all about."

Here is a look at the five keys for the Canadiens, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:



1. Healthy Price

The importance of goalie Carey Price to the Canadiens' success was obvious in 2015-16 when a right-knee injury limited him to 12 games. They slid down the standings and missed the playoffs without their All-Star goalie, but they bounced back to win the Atlantic Division last season with Price healthy. Their success this season, and in the future, will be tied to Price, who on July 2 signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension ($10.5 million average annual value) that begins after this season.

Video: Carey Price is named No. 1 Goalie

2. Centered on Drouin

Drouin's arrival gives Julien an opportunity to address the Canadiens' search for a legitimate No. 1 center. Drouin played primarily on the wing for Tampa Bay, but he was successful as a center with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 2011-14 and has embraced the move. That takes pressure off Alex Galchenyuk, who has not been able to establish himself at center through his first five NHL seasons and may not get another opportunity, at least in Montreal, where Julien and Bergevin agree he will remain on the wing for the time being.

Video: TBL@SJS: Drouin scores PPG on a dazzling solo effort

3. Left side of defense remade

Defenseman Shea Weber will have a new partner. Alzner has been paired with Jeff Petry, but who will play with Weber remains a mystery as the Canadiens embark on a season without Markov in the lineup for the first time since 1999. Jordie Benn, David Schlemko and even 19-year-old Victor Mete are all potential candidates. Bergevin said the defense will have to replace Markov by committee, and Streit may be an option to fill that role on the power play.

Video: SJS@EDM, Gm5: Schlemko scores with long-range wrister

4. Power play on rise

Drouin gives the Canadiens the kind of offensive threat they haven't had on the power play since the prime of forward Alex Kovalev from 2005-09. "There's a lot of things that I think Jonathan can see and do, and we'll continue to work with that," Julien said.


5. Tweaks to system

Julien began his second stint as Canadiens coach after Michel Therrien was fired Feb. 14. After adjusting the way Montreal played rather than implementing a new system, Julien has a fresh canvas to work with. "There are tweaks, there are little things, but it's nothing major," Gallagher said. "It's kind of something that you wouldn't notice just sitting watching a game, you've got to really pay attention, and I won't give everything away. I'll let other teams figure that out."



Biggest lock

Pacioretty led the Canadiens in points (67) and goals (35) last season. It was the sixth straight season he led them in points and the fifth straight he was first or tied for first in goals. His average of 19:11 of ice time per game led Canadiens forwards. The 28-year-old has scored at least 30 goals in four straight seasons and remains the clearest option for the top line. He is a key component on the power play and one of their top penalty-killers.

Video: MTL@TOR: Pacioretty, Galchenyuk combine for PPG

Biggest battle

Left wing Charles Hudon has impressed in his bid to stick with the Canadiens after three full seasons in the American Hockey League. Forward Michael McCarron worked on his speed and conditioning during the offseason in his push to avoid being sent to Laval, the new home of Montreal's AHL affiliate. "You want to try and get under the other team's skin and be that power guy that gets to the net and gets under guys' skin and gets them angry at you and maybe gets them off their game," McCarron said. "So that's in my game, it's always going to be in my game, and that's definitely a part that I try to play with."

Video: MTL@OTT: Hudon, Plekanec put Canadiens on the board

Most intriguing addition

Hemsky left the Stars as a free agent to sign a one-year, $1 million contract with the Canadiens on July 3, the same day Radulov left Montreal to sign with Dallas. Hemsky is hardly a straight replacement for what the Canadiens lost in Radulov, but the 34-year-old right wing embraced a more responsible style of play during three seasons with the Stars under coach Lindy Ruff. His offensive skills remain strong, and the Canadiens hope he remains healthy.

Video: DAL@ARI: Hemsky dekes past Domingue to even game

Biggest potential surprise

Mete is a long shot to make the Canadiens. Nonetheless, he has been making the most of his opportunity to learn from Weber, who he has been paired with since the beginning of training camp. "He seems like a sleeper right now," Pacioretty said. "He's a really good player, he's got great poise with the puck, he's a great skater, and I've been really impressed with what I've seen."


Max Pacioretty -- Jonathan Drouin -- Brendan Gallagher

Alex Galchenyuk -- Phillip Danault -- Ales Hemsky

Charles Hudon -- Tomas Plekanec -- Artturi Lehkonen

Paul Byron -- Torrey Mitchell -- Andrew Shaw

Jordie Benn -- Shea Weber

Karl Alzner -- Jeff Petry

David Schlemko -- Mark Streit

Carey Price

Al Montoya

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