Former Canadien Jonathan Drouin excited about return to Bell Centre

He seems to have found his game with Colorado Avalanche and appreciates the empathy coach Martin St. Louis had for him with Habs.

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There is not a lot of empathy in the world of pro sports.

It’s mostly a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude when it comes to how fans treat players and also how management treats players. On social media, it can get really vicious.

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But Martin St. Louis had empathy for Jonathan Drouin after taking over as head coach of the Canadiens in February 2022 and he’s happy now to see Drouin doing well with the Colorado Avalanche. St. Louis said he’s not surprised because Colorado is a “favourable environment” for Drouin, he’s a “very talented player” and he has also been reunited with former Halifax Mooseheads junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon.

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St. Louis was able to build a good relationship with Drouin in Montreal.

“I think it’s just conversation, perspective, my own experience,” St. Louis said after practice Sunday in Brossard. “Just empathy, emotional awareness. There’s a lot of things that go into it. It’s not like one conversation. It’s just a relationship that you build with a player trying to help him out.”

St. Louis added that he’s proud of the way Drouin has continued to push himself in Colorado.

Drouin’s six seasons in Montreal were difficult for him on and off the ice. The pressure of being a francophone Quebecer playing in Montreal got to the Ste-Agathe native, who missed the last 12 games of the 2020-21 regular season and the Canadiens’ entire run to the Stanley Cup final while dealing with anxiety and insomnia issues that, at times, would see him go three nights in a row without sleep. He also had injury problems, including surgery on both wrists, missing 134 games during his six seasons in Montreal.

Monday night, Drouin will play his first game at the Bell Centre since signing a one-year, US$825,000 contract with the Avalanche last summer as a free agent (7 p.m., SN, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). Drouin is enjoying life out of the spotlight in Colorado and it has shown in his on-ice performance with 10-14-24 totals in 41 games before facing his old team. He had points in 12 of his previous 15 games, posting 7-9-16 totals during that span.

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“I’m feeling good,” Drouin said after the Avalanche’s morning skate Monday. “The points are coming as well.”

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar made Drouin a healthy scratch twice during the first 12 games, a span during which the 28-year-old winger had only one assist. But Drouin has found his game since then and is now playing on the No. 1 line with MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

While he’s happy in Colorado, Drouin said he also enjoyed playing for St. Louis in Montreal.

“Last year was fun for me,” he said. “There was a breath of fresh air with all that new staff and Marty. To have a player that played so long in the league to be coaching you and giving you tips — almost kind of see the game the same way — it was very special and very cool. I found my love of the game two years ago and it definitely helped that with Marty, just playing and just being me and it kind of helped me in Colorado this year.”

MacKinnon said he’s “super happy” to see Drouin find his game with the Avalanche.

“He’s put in a ton of work off the ice,” MacKinnon said after the morning skate. “He seems like he’s in a great place mentally. He’s happy all the time. The guys love him here. He’s playing so well, but a lot of hockey left. He seems like he’s getting better every week and I still think there’s another level he can get to this season and we can all get to. But he’s playing awesome.”

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Drouin said he was feeling a little nervous about his homecoming game at the Bell Centre, but was also excited with his parents, his brother and many friends going to be in attendance. Sunday night he went out for dinner with some of his former Canadiens teammates, including Josh Anderson, Cole Caufield, Christian Dvorak and Sean Monahan.

“There were ups and downs,” Drouin said about his time in Montreal. “I didn’t mind my first three years. Everything kind of went downhill with that first wrist injury. Anxiety came and a lot of stuff came towards me and I had to take a step back. But I loved my time in Montreal. I loved the people I met, the people I worked with.”

But he doesn’t miss the bright spotlight.

“When you go to the grocery store, you go to the mall, you don’t really get noticed,” he said about living in Colorado. “But it’s still a hockey town and they love their team. It’s a little different than Montreal, but I love it so far.”

As for what kind of fan reaction he might get from Bell Centre fans Monday night, Drouin said: “I don’t know. Probably a little bit of both, I think. But I don’t really control that stuff or how the fans react to me coming back. But I loved my time in Montreal and I’m excited for this game.”

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