HAVE GAME, WILL TRAVEL
Visiting teams go the extra mile for Bell Capital Cup experience
UFA, Russia • It was just a year ago Jonathan Drouin was making the jump from Midget Triple-A to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a member of the Halifax Mooseheads.
Making a trip to the World Junior Hockey Championship a year later certainly wasn’t an obvious flight path but there was no ignoring the forward’s game as he set about making his mark in major junior, averaging almost two points an outing with 48 points in 24 games.
Canadian head coach Steve Spott even made a trip to Halifax to scout the winger — as well as Nathan MacKinnon, who plays alongside Drouin with the Mooseheads — just to make sure he could back up the statistics.
Spott didn’t get an eyeful of Drouin because he was banged up and not in the lineup that night, but what he did get was an earful of commendations from his world junior assistants Mario Duhamel and Andre Tourigny, who both coach in the QMJHL, as well as Kevin Prendergast, Hockey Canada’s head scout.
All three told Spott they had to invite Drouin to the camp in Calgary.
“I had never seen him until then but I became one of the guys in his fan club,” said Spott. “I just think he’s a tremendous player with elite hockey sense and he’s fearless. He’s absolutely fearless.
“He reminds me of a Taylor Hall with the way he competes.”
That’s mighty heady praise and if the shifty Drouin continues to impress like he has in the early days of the world juniors, he could, like Hall, be on every team’s draft list when June rolls around.
Playing on Canada’s second line with Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie, Drouin has leapfrogged past MacKinnon, the other 17-year-old whiz kid on the national team. MacKinnon, who has had fourth line duty, has been pitted against Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones as the early favourite to secure the right as the first pick overall.
Drouin, who graduated from the Lac St. Louis Lions, said he hasn’t been checking the early draft rankings and even if he was, he said his intention in this tournament is not to elevate his stock with his play.
“Nah, I’m not one of those guys. Right now a lot of people are talking about it but I don’t really bother,” he said. “I have one goal and that’s the gold medal. I don’t really think about my draft stock. Maybe around June.”
In the meantime, Drouin, who is checking in with this folks back home almost daily, will keep his eyes fixed on the upcoming games against the U.S. and Russia.
“It’s a lot of fun to be here, even though you’re not with your parents at Christmas,” he said. “It’s a cool city. We’re liking it even, though there’s a lot of cold and snow. It’s just different from Canada.
“It’s just fun to be here. I’m only 17. This is a really big step from last year when I was midget.”
It was during the playoffs last year that Drouin said he started to really catch fire. When he was able to pick up where he left off at the start of this season, he figured he might just be able to at least get an invite to camp.
“I had a really strong beginning and I just kept going, so I think I earned my invite,” Drouin said. “Then I had a really good camp so that’s what brought me here.”