Rabid Habs

Boisvert: Drouin Playing Centre Immediately Sends Wrong Message

The Habs have a problem at centre. I know that, you know that, and the Canadiens know that. Going into the season with Phillip Danault as the pivot man on the first line was not an option. With no immediate solutions available, Habs fans and media have tried connecting dots.

It should surprise no one that Jonathan Drouin has been linked to the number one centre position on the Habs. With the polarizing Alex Galchenyuk as the only other upgrade down the middle, Drouin’s nomination for first line centre was expected. And with a player as skilled as Drouin, this move to centre could pay huge dividends.

So why does it feel like the wrong move? More accurately, why do Claude Julien’s comments on Drouin and Galchenyuk feel wrong?

First, what did he say?

When speaking about Drouin and Galchenyuk playing centre, Julien essentially says the same thing. Both of them have a chance at being the team’s number one guy.

But there’s a big distinction. Julien very plainly states that Drouin will get a look at centre during preseason, while he is “open” to Galchenyuk getting another chance at centre. There are two layers of uncertainty in this statement. First, Julien isn’t even sure he wants to give Galchenyuk another shot just yet. He’s just “open” to it. And even if he gets a chance, it’s just that; a chance. The comment on Drouin is nearly an action, while the comment on Galchenyuk is hardly even a consideration.

Okay, so why is this a problem? On the surface, it really isn’t. The player that can best play the role should win it, but only if both players are given a fair shake. Julien’s comments at Max Pacioretty’s golf tournament should be taken as a clear indication of his reluctance to use Galchenyuk and his desire to use Drouin.

And if Drouin does well, there’s no reason to be concerned. The outright problem seems to be a complex that has plagued the Marc Bergevin era; a complex I call “The grass is always greener.” Marc Bergevin has been making a habit of pushing players in his organization to the margins (or out entirely) in order to accommodate and reward players that have yet to play a game with Montreal. Jonathan Drouin is an immediate example of this, as Bergevin made it rain on the freshly acquired forward by making him the second highest paid forward on the team. By the end of the same summer, something happened between the organization and Andrei Markov that forced the franchise defenseman to bolt for the KHL.

Andrew Shaw is another name that comes to mind, as Bergevin traded for Shaw at the 2016 NHL Draft and signed him to a six-year deal just days later. This isn’t to say that these players haven’t earned these deals, but why don’t players like Galchenyuk get the same treatment? I guess we have to take Bergevin’s word for it and “buy a dog.”

But away from the negotiating table, putting Drouin at centre makes very little sense. The core of the argument for using him at centre is that he played centre in Halifax the year after he was drafted, and he and Nikolaj Ehlers almost repeated as CHL champions. While that’s all well and good, Galchenyuk played centre in junior for the Sarnia Sting, and even with his injury, he still had enough clout to go third overall.

Galchenyuk has something that Drouin doesn’t; significant experience as a centre at the NHL level. Remember, Galchenyuk was one of the top centres in the league last year, before his knee injury in December derailed his season. Drouin played a bit of centre last year, but struggled in the same areas of the game as Galchenyuk, and questions about his two-way game still get asked.

The biggest knock on Galchenyuk as a centre has been his faceoff proficiency. At a whopping 42.7%, he stunk. No way of getting around that. He needs to get better. Drouin was just as bad at the faceoff dot, with a 43.6% success rate on the draw. If Galchenyuk loses the number-one centre position because of his struggles at the faceoff dot, Drouin should not be the one taking his spot. They’re both bad because they’re both young. All great centres struggle at the dot. They need time to figure it out.

The fact of the matter is this; we have no idea whether or not Jonathan Drouin is a better centre than a healthy Alex Galchenyuk. It is important to stress health here, because some seem content judging Galchenyuk’s season based on the half he played with a bum knee. Before the knee injury, he was almost a point per game player and the team’s best centre. There is no reason to think that he can’t do it again if he stays healthy.

The notion that Drouin is a better centre based on his junior season borders on absurd, and it is so for the same reason people knock Galchenyuk; playing centre in junior isn’t the same as playing centre in the NHL.

I say all of this confident that a healthy Galchenyuk can win that job back. No one took it away from him last year; he lost it with a knee injury. All things being equal, Galchenyuk should find himself in the middle of the top line come October.

And to be clear; I think Julien will ultimately make the right decision (whatever that decision is). The way they’re going about it, however, is confusing to say the least.

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan and follow @Rabidhabs for more updates. 

One Comment

  1. Bart Van Eyk

    September 3, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    How much of the Drouin hype is affected by Mad Max falling over himself to praise and mentor Drouin? Sadly, I don’t recall Max being so effusive about Chucky. Chucky, IMO, is every bit as good, or better, than Drouin; yet, it so often appeared to be the case that Max preferred playing with DD. and, in this organization, Max is pandered to. Julien’s treatment of Chucky was disgraceful. He was rushed onto the ice before his knee had healed (and, perhaps, some of his grey matter), and then punished for being ‘sub-par’. MB plays favourites, and foolushly hands out overly generous and overly long contracts to his new favourite, or his lufesaver (ala Price). I’m not impressed. Chucky’sbhead has been screwed with long enough. Chucky deserves to start at 1C. Drouin, for all the hype, has one full season, plus a season of bad behaviour. Enough!