Let’s just get that out of the way right now.
For years, fans have dreamt of reuniting Drouin and MacKinnon on the Avalanche. It never made sense. Drouin was struggled badly once he was traded to Montreal, but his expensive contract made any sort of deal a non-starter. With 186 points in 321 games as member of the Montreal Canadiens, he never lived up to the hype. This summer, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the age of 28.
Does it finally make sense now?
For more context on the situation, I enlisted the help of Montreal Hockey Now star writer Marco D’Amico, who has been covering Drouin for years. First off, what the heck went wrong in Montreal?
Well, to start out, expectations were sky-high for him even before he was acquired from Tampa Bay. Keep in mind, as good as Drouin was in the QMJHL, he had only 95 points in 164 games with the Lightning. His best run was probably the 2015-16 playoffs, when he put up 14 points in 17 games.
“Leading up to his acquisition, Bergevin was talking about acquiring a top-line forward to lead the club,” D’Amico said. “Then he trades the club’s best prospect in Mikhail Sergachev to make it happen.”
So yes, expectations might not have been set properly.
On top of all that, the team decided to move Drouin to center after they acquired him. He hadn’t played center since Juniors, as he was a winger with the Lightning. As you could expect, he struggled. Getting traded to a hockey hotbed like Montreal and then immediately being put in a new position is a tough situation to be put into.
Things only got worse over the years.
“He never reached a higher level of production,” D’Amico said. “Then (he) also ran into significant injury issues with his wrists, as well as serious mental health issues.”
Drouin left the team April of 2021 for what the team announced as “personal reasons.” It was later revealed that he was dealing with “insomnia” and “anxiety” issues. When he returned the next season, he felt much better, but by then, the fans were kind of done with him.
The past is the past, and it doesn’t really have an impact on the Avalanche. But what about this past year? Is there any hope left? Drouin put up 29 points in 58 games on a terrible Canadiens team, but how did he actually look?
“He certainly played like a top-9 forward this season when healthy,” D’Amico told me. “Easily the club’s best playmaker and he put up some good points, despite being incredibly unlucky in the goal-scoring department.”
The numbers kind of back this up as well. Among all the Canadiens regular forwards, Drouin had the highest assists-per-60 rate at even strength, with 1.37 assists-per-60 minutes. Yes, higher than their top center, Nick Suzuki. If you want to compare that number to the Avalanche, only MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin generated assists at a higher rate. The closest forward to Drouin’s number was Artturi Lehkonen at 1.1. So the playmaking ability, which is what he flashed the most in Juniors, is still kind of there.
The goal-scoring, however, was not, and hasn’t really been there, which is why his points-per-60 doesn’t look as good. While his 2.9% shooting percentage is a remarkably low and unsustainable, it’s not the first time he’s shot that poorly. He did it in 2020-21, making it two of the last three years he’s shot below 3%. With a history of wrist injuries, there’s a chance they’ve impacted his shooting ability.
Drouin was also a pretty effective player on their terrible powerplay (Bottom five in the NHL). Only Kirby Dach had a higher points-per-60 with the extra man, and he had the advantage of playing on the top powerplay unit. Now, if the Avalanche were to sign a guy like Drouin, there’s little to no chance he’d play on the top unit, but having a creative player on the second unit never hurts.
So the question needs to be asked – does Drouin make sense for the Avalanche?
“On a low value, one-year deal in another market with less pressure and an established core, he could likely thrive and be a very solid complimentary player,” D’Amico said.
That sounds like Colorado…
For years, the cost not just to acquire Drouin, but fit him under the cap, was an immediate non-starter for the Avalanche. This summer? He’ll be free, and I can’t imagine he will cost much. With the Landeskog news, the Avalanche will have around $20 million to fill eight roster spots. One can safely assume Bowen Byram will take up a decent chunk of that, and the Avalanche will be active in targeting some help for the top six, which will no doubt take up cap space.
They’ll need to find some cheap players to help fill out the roster, especially after the bottom six no-showed on the scoresheet for most of the second half. Changes are to be expected.
So why not Drouin? He’ll likely come very cheap, he has skill, and yes, there’s the MacKinnon connection. He also does add some versatility, as he adjusted to playing center over the years. Expectations just have to be realistic at this point in his career. You bring him in for cheap, get him out of the crazy hockey market that is Montreal, and see if you can catch lightning in a bottle. After years, it actually makes sense.