Canadiens eyeing former Mooseheads star for irst-line centre job
Habs hope search for 1st-line C ends with Drouin
Every year since he was named general manager of the Montreal Canadiens in 2012, Marc Bergevin has been asked who will be the club’s first-line centre.
He admits it’s a good question, but says top centres are hard to find.
For now, the job still belongs to Phillip Danault, who many see as better suited to third-line duty, but the Canadiens are ready to take a long look at off-season acquisition Jonathan Drouin when training camp opens Friday.
Drouin, a 22-year-old former Halifax Moosehead, was listed as a winger when he was acquired June 15 from the Tampa Bay Lightning for defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev, but he has played centre in the past. The Canadiens are making no promises, but the third overall pick in the 2013 draft will at least get a chance to fill what has been the team’s biggest void in recent years.
“I didn’t make that trade to say, ’Jo will be our next centre,’’’ Bergevin said Monday at the team’s charity golf tournament. “No matter where he plays, I would have made that trade because getting a young player with that skill level doesn’t come that often, especially a Frenchcanadian kid that wants to be here and wants to be successful.”
Last season, they tried Alex Galchenyuk at centre and it looked to be working until the 2012 third overall draft pick was injured in mid-season. But management felt he wasn’t handling the defensive side of the job, and coach Claude Julien, after he replaced Michel Therrien in February, came to the same conclusion.
So while Galchenyuk was handed a three-year contract extension worth US$4.9 million per season on July 5, he will earn it playing on the wing.
Julien is also intrigued by what the shifty Drouin can do in the middle.
“He likes to use all the ice and that gives him an opportunity to express himself offensively,” the coach said. “We’ve got eight exhibition games. That will give him a chance to work with teammates at that position. We’re confident it’s going to work.’’
Drouin spent the summer working out with Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who may end up being his left-winger. While Galchenyuk normally also plays on the left side, there is talk of stacking the first line with talent by putting him on their right side.
That’s fine with Drouin, who expects an easy transition to centre.
“Max scores at a high pace and the way he skates for a big guy is quite impressive,’’ said Drouin. “I’m excited to play with whoever it is but if it’s Max it’s going to be awesome.’’
Players report Thursday for medicals, with on-ice workouts starting Friday.
He’s got the attributes to be a good centreman. Claude Julien
Jonathan Drouin speaks to members of the media on Monday in Laval, Que.