Montreal Canadiens: Trying Jonathan Drouin at Center

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Jonathan Drouin
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23: Jonathan Drouin /

Letting Jonathan Drouin play center for the Montreal Canadiens could be a good idea but it comes with risks, some that could hurt his development.

There’s no addition Montreal Canadiens fans are more excited to see than Jonathan Drouin. Even though it cost the team Mikhail Sergachev, Drouin has done enough in his career so far to make the trade worth it without seeing him play.

A lot of projected rosters for the Habs next season have Drouin at one of two positions. Either on the first-line wing with Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, or the second-line wing with Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen. However, there are the optimistic groups that have him somewhere else.

A Pacioretty-Drouin-Galchenyuk first-line has been floating around Habs social media all off-season. It’s most likely a combination of a couple of things. Galchenyuk has had his chance to be the top-line center and only truly succeeded once. Canadiens management’s thoughts on seeing him as a winger doesn’t help either.

Related Story: Give Galchenyuk Another Shot at Center

What seems to be keeping Galchenyuk from playing center is his defensive game. In the season ending presser, Claude Julien harped on the fact that you need to be responsible on both ends to play down the middle. Unfortunately, Galchenyuk doesn’t appear to be there yet, but there have been signs of it.

So who will play center for the Montreal Canadiens this season between the two? Will it be Drouin with Galchenyuk on the wing, or Galchenyuk with Drouin on the wing? In my opinion wouldn’t hurt to play Drouin at center. However if they do, it should not be on the first-line.

Drouin’s Experience as a Center

The 22-year-old has limited experience as center. He played center in midget with the Lac-St Louis Lions back in the 2011-2012 season. Drouin played in 22 games and scored 22 goals and 31 assists before heading to play for Halifax Mooseheads in the QJMHL.

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His center days took a hiatus for a while as he played on Nathan MacKinnon‘s wing. Drouin wouldn’t get back to the middle of the ice until the 2013-2014 season after being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Quebec-native didn’t make the team after his first professional training camp, but was instead send back to junior. The hope was that Drouin would spend the entire season playing center there.

Drouin finished the season with a similar point total that was distributed differently. As a winger on MacKinnon’s line, he had 41 goals and 64 points. After playing center for the Mooseheads the entire season, Drouin finished with 29 goals and 79 assists.

Unfortunately, that would be the last time Drouin would see the middle of the ice. The story of his struggle to make the NHL full-time is well-known by now, but when he did, it was on the wing. Drouin is coming off his highest point total yet in the NHL with 21 goals and 32 assists. All while playing on the left-wing.

Should Drouin Play Center?

Drouin doesn’t seem to be phased at all with the possibility of playing center.

However, that is just another pressure added to his plate. There are expectations from:

That being said, he’s constantly voiced his desire to live up to the challenge. Drouin is still young and even though he hasn’t played center professionally, there is still room for him to grow. That growth could help him become the top-line center the Montreal Canadiens need.

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He definitely has the skill and playmaking ability to play at that position. There wouldn’t be any doubt that Drouin will make any winger he plays with on the team better.

Could Drouin Play Center?

It looks like the same question as the last one, but there is a big difference. Will the Montreal Canadiens give Drouin a shot to play center? Of course they will. It would be foolish of them not to. Whether Drouin will stay there is what’s up in the air.

Julien wants and expects complete defensive responsibility from his centers. It’s unfair to make the comparison, but he did coach a now four-time Selke Trophy winner in Patrice Bergeron. What will hurt Drouin’s chances is that his defence needs to be worked on.

As a center, you’re basically a third defenceman. You always need to be ready to get back and defend to prevent scoring chances. That’s why sometimes a center’s point totals are decreased in the NHL because the coaches expect them to focus on playing right opposed to getting points and its only after a year or two where they start to find a balance.

Related Story: Season Expectations for Jonathan Drouin

If the Montreal Canadiens want to try out Drouin down the middle, it can’t be on the top-line. They need to ease him into it and maybe start him on the second or third line. If he can handle it, then it’ll be up to Julien to move him up.

Additionally, the Habs could still play with the idea of Galchenyuk on the top-line which could free another wing position for someone to move up. If he is willing to commit to Julien’s style next season, then why not play him there as well?

It’s not easy to play center in the NHL. This isn’t to say that Drouin wont be able to do it, but the Montreal Canadiens should do what they can to make sure that he can excel in it. Starting him out to play against other team’s top-lines may do more bad than good.

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Can Drouin play center for the Habs? Is it fair to start him on the top-line if they do? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!