Photo Credit: © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Drouin would be a nice buy-low target for the Oilers

When the Montreal Canadiens acquired a disgruntled Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning a few years back, they thought they were getting a front-line superstar to lead their team. That hasn’t happened.

Drouin was selected third overall by the Lightning in 2013 after he and Nathan MacKinnon absolutely carved up the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads. Simply put, Drouin hasn’t looked like the same dynamic offensive weapon since MacKinnon was his linemate.

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Things didn’t work out nicely for Drouin in Tampa Bay. He didn’t crack the team in 2013-14 after he was drafted and went down and put up 108 points for the Mooseheads in 46 games before posted an obscene 41 points in 16 playoff games. He made the Lightning in 2014-15, but only managed four goals in a disappointing rookie season. I wrote about this situation and how it compares to Jesse Puljujarvi.

The following year, Drouin’s struggles continued. After scoring just two goals in his first 19 games, Drouin was assigned to the AHL. He originally refused to report and demanded a trade. The Lightning called his bluff, he spent 17 games with their AHL affiliate, and then returned for a strong run in the playoffs.

Drouin would eventually get his wish a year later. After a breakout 21-goal and 53-point season with the Lightning, Drouin got shipped to the Canadiens in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev. It seemed like the perfect fit for the native of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, who grew up dreaming of playing for the Habs. Drouin and the Habs immediately agreed on a six-year deal worth $5.5 million.

But, even in a more favourable environment, Drouin still hasn’t been able to live up to expectations. He put up 13 goals in his first season with the Habs and then followed that up with 18 goals last season. That’s solid depth production but it’s nowhere near the star-calibre player the Habs were expecting.

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According to Elliotte Freidman, the Habs, who boast a logjam up front, might be interested in moving on from Drouin…

This will come as no surprise to anyone who follows the Canadiens, but they are looking to move a forward. Nick Suzuki is pushing. Even though he was sent Monday night to AHL Laval, Jake Evans is too. Hopefully Ryan Poehling makes a quick and complete recovery, but even with his injury, they have extra bodies. Jonathan Drouin played 11:57 in Monday’s 3-0 loss Toronto, lowest among all skaters. Already, this is something to keep an eye on.

Drouin is slated to start the season on the team’s second line, with Max Domi as his centre. But if rookies like Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans, and Ryan Poehling hit the ground running, the team’s most expensive forward could end up getting shoved further down the depth chart. With Max Domi in need of a long-term deal this off-season, shedding Drouin’s $5.5 million cap hit would make sense for the Habs, especially if it means they can add to their mediocre blueline.

Though it seems like he’s been around forever, Drouin is still only 24 years of age. There’s still time for him to become the player he was expected to be when he was drafted third overall. From an Oilers perspective, he makes a lot of sense as a buy-low option.

I noted earlier that Drouin hasn’t really looked the same since MacKinnon was his linemate. While that’s probably an oversimplification, a lot of his underwhelming play can be chalked up to not playing with elite linemates in the NHL. In Tampa Bay, he played his most minutes with Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula. In Montreal, he’s bounced from an offensive role as a winger with Domi and Brendan Gallagher to centring Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen in more of a two-way role.

None of those linemates are the calibre of Connor McDavid, or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, for that matter. I imagine Drouin unleashed in Edmonton’s top-six alongside one of their two playmaking pivots would be a game-changer for him.

The other reason I like Drouin as a buy-low is because he’s cost-controlled at $5.5 million. In today’s NHL, that’s fairly reasonable for a top-six player. It would be a bargain if he could break out and become a 30-goal guy.

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The question then becomes whether or not the Oilers and Habs are a match as trade partners. Montreal badly needs to fill up their blueline, which features Shea Weber and Jeff Petry on the right side and not much on the left side. I’m not interested in giving up Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom in a deal for Drouin.

Eric Engels also wrote about Drouin for Sportsnet, and this line stuck out for me…

But if things keep trending in the same direction, you really have to wonder if management will view the scenario of trading him as an addition by subtraction.

Drouin is a name worth keeping an eye on this season. If he struggles for a third-straight year in Montreal, Ken Holland should absolutely jump on the phone with Marc Bergevin to make a bid on this buy-low player with major upside.