Cana­di­ens hope search for first line cen­tre ends with off sea­son catch Drouin

Sherbrooke Record - - LOCAL SPORTS - By Bill Bea­con THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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 first­line 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 off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion Jonathan Drouin when train­ing camp opens Fri­day.

Drouin, 22, 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 French-cana­dian kid that wants to be here and wants to be suc­cess­ful. “It was some­thing I couldn't pass on.” 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.

“For his and our team's own good, we see him as a winger and there's noth­ing wrong with that,” Julien said of Galchenyuk. “He's a great shooter and with the right peo­ple, he'll have some suc­cess and that's what we're look­ing for.”

Julien is also in­trigued by what the shifty Drouin can do in the mid­dle.

“He's played there be­fore and he's got the at­tributes to be a good cen­tre­man,” the coach said. “He likes the space.

“He likes to use all the ice and that gives him an op­por­tu­nity to ex­press him­self of­fen­sively. 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 left­winger. 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.”

There was spec­u­la­tion Galchenyuk would be traded un­til he signed his new con­tract. Now the slick play­maker and shooter is ready to play wher­ever Julien puts him.

“I want to be the best player I can be, whether it's on the wing or at cen­tre,” he said.

The Cana­di­ens need to fill a hole on right side caused by the un­ex­pected de­par­ture of Alexander Radulov, who turned down Bergevin's of­fer to sign as an un­re­stricted free agent with Dal­las. Bergevin said he of­fered the same money, ear­lier than the Stars, but the Rus­sian opted to leave the team that wel­comed him back from the KHL on a oneyear con­tract.

Vet­eran right-winger Ales Hem­sky, who signed a one-year deal, and could play on the se­cond or third line with To­mas Plekanec.

The club also lost long-stand­ing de­fence stal­wart An­drei Markov to the KHL af­ter fail­ing to agree on a one-year deal. With Alexei Emelin claimed in the ex­pan­sion draft by Las Ve­gas and Nathan Beaulieu traded to Buf­falo, most of the left side of last sea­son's de­fence is gone.

They were re­placed by free agents Karl Alzner, who inked a five-year con­tract at $4.6 mil­lion per sea­son, David Sch­lemko, Joe Mor­row and vet­eran Mark Streit.

Bergevin is hoping at least one prospect cracks the NHL ros­ter. It could be big cen­tre Michael Mc­car­ron, cen­tre Ja­cob de la Rose, winger Charles Hudon or for­ward Nikita Scherbak.

Play­ers re­port Thurs­day for med­i­cals and fit­ness test­ing, with on-ice work­outs start­ing Fri­day.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/RYAN REMIORZ

Mon­treal Cana­di­ens de­fence­man Shea We­ber, left, and for­ward Jonathan Drouin pose for pho­tos be­fore the team's an­nual char­ity golf tour­na­ment Mon­day, Septem­ber 11, 2017 in Laval, Que.

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