Jonathan Drouin shows off power-play prowess in Canadiens debut

The Washington Capitals doubled up the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 in Wednesday's pre-season game but at least Hab fans got to see their big off season acquisition, Jonathan Drouin, in action.

MONTREAL — It’s a sequence that should get you really excited about Jonathan Drouin if you’re a fan of the Montreal Canadiens.

He scooped up the puck on the left side of the offensive zone, curled in towards the slot and uncorked a slapshot that dinged off the post. A few seconds later, the puck found its way back to him, he backed a defender into the slot, faked a slapshot and dished it down low to Ales Hemsky, who passed the puck across the crease to Max Pacioretty to tie their pre-season game against the Washington Capitals at 2-2 in the second period.

It was a power-play goal, and there will be many more like it for this team this season, so long as Drouin can remain healthy.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien recognizes the versatility this player possesses and why it will be a tremendous asset from the half-wall position.

“We’re not stuck just using the same plays because he has good vision and he can make those passes,” said Julien after Montreal’s 4-2 loss. “You can see that as a penalty killer, you don’t know if he’s going to throw it to the point right in the middle of the ice so that guy can get a great shot, such as [Shea Weber]. Or you don’t know if he’s going to pass it down low for Hemsky or make that pass like he did to [Pacioretty], or [Pacioretty] can also slide to the slot or down to the goal-line and back up for a quick release there, too.

“There’s a lot of different things, and if they watch a guy like Pacioretty, there’s always that cross pass to the D on the other side coming in closer to the backdoor. There’s a lot of things that I think Jonathan can see and do, and we’ll continue to work with that.”

They should.

It’s fair to say that the Canadiens haven’t had a player with the poise, vision, playmaking ability and the shot that Drouin owns since Alex Kovalev was running their power play from the same position. Over the last number of years, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk and Pacioretty have all taken turns in that slot, but each one of them have been deficient in at least one of those key categories. It’s a big part of the reason the team hasn’t finished better than 13th on the power play over the last four seasons.

Plekanec had a good view of how Drouin operated from the half-wall on Wednesday and it brought back some memories of the dominant power play the Canadiens ran over the 4 1/4 seasons Kovalev was in Montreal.

“They are very similar, and he’s very talented,” said Plekanec of his new teammate. “He sees the right play out there and tends to make the right decision at the right time.”

It’s a common trait in players who dominate from the half-wall on the power play. Look at Nicklas Backstrom, who didn’t dress for the Capitals on Wednesday. Watch Chicago’s Patrick Kane. Or do what Drouin does and seek out some video of one of the greatest half-wall players of all time.

“I’ll go back to when I was younger, [former Detroit Red Wing Pavel] Datsyuk used to play that spot in the really good years — the Cup years (2008),” said Drouin, who has produced more than one-third of his 95 points in the NHL on the power play. “I still look at him on YouTube, what he did and his poise and how he made plays to [Nicklas] Lidstrom — those guys — [Henrik] Zetterberg. He’d probably be the one guy for the power play, where I play, I’d be looking at a lot.”

Borrowing from a player like Datsyuk, who scored 97 of his 314 goals and 330 of his 918 points in the NHL on the power play, is probably not a bad idea. Not just anyone can do that, but Drouin’s talent makes him a natural candidate.

The rest of it boils down to?

“Just patience, not trying to force too many things,” said Drouin.

Being unpredictable is another key factor.

The self-labelled “pass-first” player said being willing to shoot the puck when you’re known as a playmaker changes everything.

“I think it opens up more options,” Drouin said. “Right away, you get a puck to the net. If it’s [Weber] or me, I think the penalty killers gotta respect [those options].

“[Hemsky] told me I gotta shoot a couple at first to get things opened up. He was wide open for that pass to Max, so shooting early on on the power play will open up some things.”

There’s a lot more to Drouin’s game that will excite Canadiens fans.

On Wednesday he looked comfortable in his new role at centre, was responsible in his own end, and he won seven of nine faceoffs after losing his first six.

“When you talk about Jonathan Drouin, we’ve seen him enough in the balance that he’s such a smart player and can make things happen, and I think there’s even more to his game than he’s shown,” said Julien. “I know there’s even more to his game than he’s shown. He’s just getting into game shape like everyone else.”

But the 22-year-old from just north of Montreal already looks like a well-oiled machine on the power play, and that’s great news for a team that’s been deficient in that category for long stretches of the past few seasons.