Drouin rode meteoric rise into draft year
Not many teenage players can claim going from midget AAA to major juniors to a first-line role for Canada at the World Junior Championship in the span of a year.
Then again, forward Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is unlike many forwards eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.
For starters, he has never experienced the mental anguish associated with being cut from a sports team.
While Drouin may be slightly overshadowed by linemate and highly regarded center Nathan MacKinnon in Halifax this season, some scouts wouldn't be surprised if he earned a roster spot on an NHL team next fall.
"If he went to training camp in September and made a team out of training camp, I don't think anyone would be surprised," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told NHL.com.
Drouin's remarkable stick skills and soft hands have been the talk of many this season. He's certainly in the running to hear his name among the top-five picks at this year's draft on June 30 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
MacKinnon, rated No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, finished fourth on the team 75 points (32 goals, 43 assists) in 44 games. Drouin, No. 3 on Central Scouting's midterm report, ranked second in the league with 105 points (41 goals, 64 assists) in 49 games.
"Nathan MacKinnon makes players around him better, but if you appear to make Nathan MacKinnon better, you're doing yourself a solid," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "It's not as if people think MacKinnon made [Drouin] better. It's more Drouin's ability to play at that level and side-by-side with him. Drouin has responded very well this season, and that's why we think of him so highly."
In the absence of MacKinnon, who sustained a lower-body injury Feb. 8 and missed 11 games, Drouin proved his ability to get the job done by generating 11 goals and 27 points over that stretch.
The meteoric rise of Drouin began in Lac St-Louis (QMAAA) in 2011-12 when he scored 22 goals and 53 points in 22 games. The incredible start forced the Mooseheads, who chose Drouin with the No. 2 pick in the 2011 QMJHL draft, to create roster space for the 16-year-old midway through their season.
He'd connect for seven goals and 29 points in his 33-game audition with Halifax during the regular season and, for an encore, add 17 goals and 26 points in 17 playoff games.
"I guess [the Halifax staff] saw that I was making a difference [in the QMAAA]," Drouin said. "I also think my name got bigger at the Telus Cup [with Lac St-Louis in 2010-11]."
Drouin recorded two goals and six points in seven games at the Telus Cup for bronze medal-winning Lac St-Louis.
He then helped lead Canada to a gold medal at the 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament and competed for Team QMJHL against Russia at the 2012 Subway Super Series. Drouin was then chosen to play for the Canadian National Junior Team at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, and chipped in with two goals and four points is six games for the fourth place Canadians.
"I felt I kind of earned [a spot on Canada for WJC], but I was pretty surprised because not a lot of 18-year-old players make those teams," Drouin said. "So when coach knocked on my door to tell me I had made the team, it was an exciting moment."
Perhaps even more surprising was learning he had earned a role on Canada's top line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele in the fourth game of the tournament against Russia. He would replace alternate captain Jonathan Huberdeau on that line.
"The most important thing I learned at the WJC was maturity," Drouin said. "You look at those guys like Nugent-Hopkins, who plays in the NHL, and I think you see what they do. They're always calm and not running around trying to hit people. They're just playing their game, and that's what I try to bring."
Why does he think he was given an opportunity with Nugent-Hopkins?
"I think I was having a pretty good tournament," Drouin said. "I was cycling the puck down low and doing what they told me to do. I think it was more about the coach just wanting to switch it up, but I was really happy to play with Nuge and Scheifele."
Canadian National Junior Team coach Steve Spott said Drouin played beyond his years at the WJC.
"He had that swagger and inner confidence that he wanted to be a difference-maker every time he was on the ice," Spott told NHL.com. "His skill set, hands and vision, really are at an elite level, so he's going to be a prime-time NHL scorer."
Drouin admits that while MacKinnon is the pure sniper, he is more the shifty playmaker.
"I don't go out and hit people, but look for open space and find my linemates," Drouin said. "It's easy to play with a guy like Nathan. He's got speed like a horse and finds that open area to make things happen."
What does Halifax coach Dominic Ducharme think of his dynamic duo?
"It's pretty special that Nathan and Jon are battling for top honors at the draft; it's tough to predict who will come out first," Ducharme told NHL.com. "We all have our preferences on types of players, but the important thing is we know they will be drafted early and they won't be waiting too long. From that point, it's their job to make the most of their opportunity and have the biggest impact they can."
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Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer