One of the underlying reasons why the Montreal Canadiens were unable to hold on to a wild card spot down the stretch was the poor play of one of their best players, Jonathan Drouin. Speaking with Alexis Belanger-Champagne of La Presse, Drouin acknowledged that his play suffered when it matter most in the final games of the season. He even owned his decreased ice time, understanding that head coach Claude Julien needed productive, confident players on the ice and he was playing frustrated and failing to find results. Drouin finished the season with 53 points in 81 games, but only contributed one goal and two assists in Montreal’s final 18 games. Yet, for all of his late-season struggles, Drouin does not expect to be shopped this off-season. The 24-year-old forward did match a career-high in points this year and early in the season was on pace to shatter all previous personal marks. Drouin knows that he dropped the ball, but tells Belanger-Champagne that he is happy with the Canadiens and knows he can be a difference-maker once again next season and beyond. GM Marc Bergevin seems to agree. Bergevin told La Presse that Drouin showed maturity with how he handled his poor play and that he understands his role on the team. Bergevin expects the young scorer to “take another step forward next year.” At $5.5MM for four more years, Drouin can still be a bargain for the Habs and certainly a dependable top-six forward. Bergevin is not one to overreact, so expect Drouin to be back in the bleu, blanc, et rougue next year.
- Drouin’s return doesn’t mean that the Canadiens won’t try to address their offense this summer. In fact, the team already has their sights set on an import out of Russia. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Montreal is “high” on KHL forward Konstantin Okulov. Okulov, 24, is currently playing in the Gagarin Cup Final with CSKA Moscow and his breakout regular season has extended into the postseason. The skilled forward has 12 points in 15 playoff games following a career-high 20 goals and 31 points in 48 regular season games. The Habs would like to see if his high-powered game can translate to the NHL. Unfortunately, Friedman also notes that Okulov is under contract for one more year with CSKA and may not be available to Montreal this off-season. Unless he both wants and is granted a release from his contract, the Canadiens may need to keep scouting for another year.
- As for attracting free agents already in the NHL, The Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey opines that the Canadiens may have a tough time luring top names to Montreal this summer despite ample cap space. It doesn’t have anything to do with team personnel, either. Hickey notes that taxes and cost of living are among the negatives of making the move to Montreal and claims that has deterred free agents in recent years. However, Hickey adds that this might not be a bad things, as Bergevin’s track record of late has been better with trades than it has been with signings. The Habs will undoubtedly still add a few free agents, but in need of a veteran backup goalie, a top-four defenseman, and a top-six forward, the team will likely have to tackle the trade market to address at least one of those holes.