The Canadiens’ Jonathan Drouin had one goal going into the new NHL season.
“Staying healthy and playing as many games as I can,” Drouin said before the Canadiens played a Kraft Hockeyville preseason game against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in Bouctouche, N.B. “These past two, three years have been tough for me on that point, where I’ve had good starts to the season and injuries completely ruined my season. So I’m really focused on taking care of my body and making sure I’m healthy for 82 games.”
Drouin won’t play 82 games this season because he was made a healthy scratch for the season opener Wednesday at the Bell Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
Drouin wasn’t made available to the media after the morning skate at the Bell Centre.
The 27-year-old forward is heading into the final season of the six-year, US$33-million contract with a US$5.5 million salary-cap hit that former Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin signed Drouin to after acquiring him from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for defenceman Mikhail Sergachev.
While Drouin has struggled in Montreal and dealt with numerous injuries, the 24-year-old Sergachev has won two Stanley Cups with the Lightning and was rewarded with an eight-year, US$68-million contract extension that kicks in next year.
At this point, it seems obvious that Drouin doesn’t have a future in Montreal beyond this season and that GM Kent Hughes will likely be looking to trade him if he can.
When Hughes met with the media at noon Wednesday, he noted that Drouin was coming off an injury last season and was also sick during training camp, which forced him to miss some time. The GM also noted that the Canadiens now have 14 good forwards, that it’s good to have internal competition and that injuries always come into play during a season.
When asked directly if Drouin has a future with the team, Hughes said: “Joe is in the final year of his contract. He’s not the only player in the final year of his contract. The players that show to us that they can continue to contribute to the team in a positive manner, it’s certain they could have a future with the team. But I can’t answer at the moment. That will be judged during the season.”
Other veteran Canadiens forwards heading into the final season of their contracts include Sean Monahan, Evgenii Dadonov and Paul Byron, who has been placed on long-term injured reserve with a hip injury.
Hughes said Drouin had some positive dialogue with head coach Martin St. Louis and that he didn’t see the situation becoming a problem because Drouin is a good teammate.
When asked in Bouctouche if he felt extra pressure heading into the final season of his contract, Drouin said: “Not really. Obviously, I know where I stand and I know where I am in my career. I don’t think I could put more pressure on myself than I already do. It’s just up to me to perform and have a good year and the rest is going to take care of itself.”
Last season, Drouin had 6-14-20 totals in 34 games before requiring season-ending surgery on his right wrist.
Drouin has only played 105 regular-season games during the last three seasons. He was limited to 27 games in 2019-20, posting 7-8-15 totals, before having season-ending surgery on his left wrist. He played 44 games in 2020-21, posting 2-21-23 totals, before leaving the team to deal with anxiety and insomnia issues that he said would sometimes see him go three nights without sleep. Drouin missed all of the Canadiens’ playoff run that season to the Stanley Cup final.
In Bouctouche, Drouin said that both wrists now feel good and that there is no more pain.
“It’s just getting back into it,” he said. “It’s brand-new for me. Getting touches, poke checks, stick lifting, it’s all coming back and I’m really happy where it is.”
Being a healthy scratch is definitely not the way Drouin wanted to start what looks like his final season with the Canadiens.
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