Cana­di­ens eye­ing for­mer Moose­heads star for irst-line cen­tre job

Habs hope search for 1st-line C ends with Drouin

Metro Canada (Halifax) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

Ryan Remiorz/the Cana­dian Press

Jonathan Drouin speaks to mem­bers of the me­dia on Mon­day in Laval, Que.

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