The Montreal Canadiens have pieced together one of the youngest top-sixes in the entire NHL. Max Pacioretty is the elder statesman of the group, and he’s all of 28 years old. Alex Galchenyuk is 23, while Brendan Gallagher is 25. Artturi Lehkonen is just 22 and Phillip Danault is 24.
Joining that group via trade this summer is Jonathan Drouin, who is just 22. While the Habs have some question marks on the blue line and could still use a high-end N0. 1 center, there’s a ton of potential with these top two lines.
That’s especially true with Drouin, who was generally stuck behind a handful of outstanding players in Tampa Bay. He was rarely — if ever — expected to be the guy for the Lightning, but there will be different expectations in Montreal. Drouin inked a sizeable six-year contract extension once landing with the Canadiens, and he now carries a cap hit of $5.5 million.
— Peter Alper (@peteralper99) June 15, 2017
Only one forward on the team makes more money than the wing, and that will elevate what the organization is looking for Drouin to produce. But what can the Canadiens reasonably expect from the former No. 3 draft pick?
A lot of that will come down to where Drouin ends up skating once lines are settled. He played left wing in Tampa Bay, but Montreal is absolutely stacked on that side. If Galchenyuk doesn’t end up playing as a center, he too would slide over to the left side.
The glut of left wings will force head coach Claude Julien to shift one or two of them to the right side. Drouin is capable of playing both wings, so he seems like a good candidate to do so. He’ll have more opportunities to play with strong forwards that way, and he would fit on the first or second unit.
It’s also worth noting that a majority of Droin’s high-quality shot opportunities came from the right side of the net last season.
Perhaps the most tantalizing possibility is Drouin replacing Brendan Gallagher on the top line. That would set him up to get a lot of ice time with Pacioretty, who is already one of the most consistent goal scorers in the league. Over the last three seasons, only five forwards have scored more goals than Pacioretty (102), and his average goals scored per game (0.42) sneaks him into the top 10.
He’s a supremely talented finisher who hasn’t had the chance to skate with a creative setup man like Drouin too often. Again, this is assuming Drouin shifts to the right side, but the possibility of getting an outstanding passer onto the top unit with Pacioretty is an enticing one.
If this is the line Julien ends up going with, odds are good that Drouin would finish with a lot more assists than goals. He scored 21 times last season but finished with just 32 helpers. We could see his goal total dip if he is asked to primarily be a passer, but that assist total could spike in a big way.
What could prevent Drouin’s goal output from declining too much is his strong shooting percentage. He converted on 11.5 percent of his chances in 2017-18, which isn’t too far off his career mark of 10.2. Drouin doesn’t need a ridiculously high number of shots to score 20 goals.
It only took him only 183 shots to hit 21 last season, and that’s a number we could reasonably anticipate him getting back to in 2017-18. Pacioretty would continue to be the primary triggerman, though, and he’s one of the highest volume shooters in the NHL. He took a whopping 268 shots on goal a year ago, scoring 13.1 percent of the time.
Assuming Drouin also draws top power play time, he could very well be in for his first 60-point campaign. That number could climb even higher if Pacioretty and Drouin click. Drouin is such a slick, smooth passer. He knows how to create space while hanging onto the puck. That combo could give opposing coaches fits for the next several years.
Even if Drouin ends up playing on the second line, 60 points(-ish) seems like an acceptable sum for him. He’d probably have more goals on the second unit than he would on the first, so it’s going to come down to what kind of role he’s asked to take on.
Anything beyond that kind of output should be considered icing on the cake for this intriguing group of forwards the Canadiens have assembled.
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