LAVAL-SUR-LE-LAC, Que. — “It had nothing to do with my conditioning,” Jonathan Drouin said as he attempted to explain why his production fell off a cliff when the Montreal Canadiens needed it most last season.
It was perhaps the most relevant thing he said during the nine-minute, bilingual meet-the-media session he held on Thursday prior to teeing off as the host of his golf tournament – an annual event he puts on to help honour the 2017 commitment he made to raise over $500,000 per year over the course of a decade to benefit the University of Montreal Hospital. At the very least, the comment explains why the only thing Drouin chose to add to his off-season routine was to enlist Canadiens assistant coach Dominique Ducharme to break down video with him.
The 24-year-old didn’t alter his workout regimen, he didn’t switch around his on-ice schedule, nor did he seek out a new skating coach. Instead he committed to a video autopsy of a season that saw him record 47 points over his first 55 games before fizzling out with just six points over his last 26 games.
It was early in the summer that Drouin reached out to Ducharme, his former coach with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, to get a better handle on what he did well, what he didn’t do well, and what other players of similar stature do that enables them to produce with the type of consistency he wants to achieve. In this gesture, he showed Ducharme just how committed he is to becoming the player the Canadiens are paying him $5.5 million a year to be.
It’s a gesture that impressed Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, too.
“A guy who takes charge of his career and his situation is a good sign,” said Julien on Thursday. “He’s still a young player, so that’s the exciting part of it. He’s a young player that wants to improve, so hopefully that’s what’s going to happen. If he does, he’s going to make our team that much better. He has the ability to be an impact player when he wants to be.”
Drouin has made it clear he wants to be an impact player right now. He’s accumulated 322 games of experience over five NHL seasons — collecting 60 goals and 194 points along the way — and he feels prepared to take the biggest step of his career, one towards becoming the consistent offensive threat he was expected to be when the Tampa Bay Lightning took him third overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.
To take that step, Drouin felt it was essential to first look back and get to the root of why things went from great to terrible for him over the last third of the 2018-19 season.
To start with, he realized he had put too much pressure on himself to produce and began to ignore key details in his game that would’ve allowed him to produce. Drouin then came away from his sessions with Ducharme in possession of some other answers.
His most important revelation?
“There’s some stuff where I complicate things a little bit,” Drouin said. “It’s been one of my problems when I played junior and in the NHL, when I started in this league. Sometimes it’s just (about) making that easy play where it doesn’t look that great or doesn’t look that good on TV but it’s effective. I think that’s what we looked at more than anything is to be more effective in what I do every game. Whether it’s with the puck or without it, it’s just being more… not conservative, but going after it the way I used to do it back when I played my best games in junior and in the NHL in that playoff (with the Lightning in 2015).”
It’s that aggressive game-style that helped him score 242 points in 128 games and add 102 more over 50 playoff games in his three seasons with the Mooseheads. That same style that saw him produce 14 points in 17 games as the Lightning fell just one win shy of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
Julien said Drouin needs to employ it with more regularity.
“The biggest thing is that I don’t think he was able to get to the inside as much as he could, and when he did he had success,” the coach said. “If he can get consistent in that area, which is what he’s trying to do in watching video and seeing the things that really brings the best out of him… People forget that some players become real impact players at 20, 21, 22, like the McDavids, but there’s other guys who take a little longer but still become impact players. So, I like his approach, I like his attitude, and we’ll work with that.”
Drouin is also excited for the process to continue. He said he feels good about his conditioning and comfortable about where he’s at from a mental standpoint ahead of the 2019-20 season.
“For me, (the key is) just to be able to at least look at myself in the mirror and say that I really did something to (help the team) be in the playoffs this year,” the Sainte-Agathe, Que., native concluded.
It’s an attainable goal.