MONTREAL — General manager Marc Bergevin couldn’t pass up a chance to bring one of the most talented French-Canadian players in the league to the Montreal Canadiens.
But it cost him perhaps his best prospect — big, mobile Windsor Spitfires defenceman Mikhail Sergachev — and a conditional 2018 draft pick for Drouin and a conditional pick.
“It’s a tough decision for sure,” Bergevin said Thursday. “We drafted (Sergachev) last year ninth overall, but to get a young player of Jonathan’s calibre, it’s something as an organization we could not pass by.
“The chance to put your hands on a player like that, at that age, and a guy from here, I can’t pass that up. We gave up a lot but I’m convinced we got back a big piece.”
The deal had been in the works for some time. No sooner had Drouin arrived at a Bell Centre news conference and donned a Canadiens jersey (No. 72, probably not the number he will wear) than it was announced the potential restricted free agent had agreed to a six-year contract extension, reportedly worth a reasonable US$5.5 million per season.
Drouin has the potential to be the first French-Canadian offensive star in his prime the Canadiens have had since Vincent Damphousse in the 1990s.
“When I heard the news, to me, as a young Quebecer, it was huge,” said Drouin, 22, who was on his way to play golf when his agent called with the news. “I had a big smile.
“It’s surreal. I’m a home town boy. You don’t really think that day’s going to happen then you realize you’ll be playing for the Canadiens. I’m still kind of in shock that it happened.”
Now the Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., native will have to deal with the pressure that comes with playing in hockey-mad Montreal.
“Obviously there’s that pressure of playing in Montreal, everybody knows that, but as a player, I’d rather have that pressure on myself,” he said. “I’ll thrive on that pressure.
“I like that stuff. I’ve played at the Bell Centre many times as an away guy. Being on the home side will be even better.”
The Canadiens were in the market for a first line centre but it’s not certain that Drouin fits that bill. He has played all three forward positions in Tampa. Bergevin said it will be up to coach Claude Julien to decide.
The Canadiens were short on skilled forwards for their top two lines, especially with Alexander Radulov set to become an unrestricted free agent. They’ve added a player who brings speed, soft hands and a scoring touch. Drouin had a career-best 21 goals and 53 points last season, including nine goals and 26 points on the power play.
The trade ends a rocky four-year tenure in Tampa for Drouin, who clashed with head coach Jon Cooper and was suspended by the club at one point following a trade request. He ultimately rejoined the group for the 2016 playoffs, piled up 14 points and 17 games and had his most productive NHL campaign this past season.
“It’s hard to say last year if it was the right thing that happened or not,” said Drouin. “I’ve gone over that question many times but I definitely grew as a person.
“Tampa was good for me. They have a lot of good players. It was just time to move on. It’s a new chapter. I’m definitely ready to come back here in September.”
The deal allows the Lightning to protect one more player ahead of next Wednesday’s expansion draft. Protection lists are due for submission on Saturday. They could potentially have lost promising 24-year-old centre Vladislav Namestnikov for nothing.
Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman said his priority was in finding a defenceman. He landed a potential first pair rearguard in the rangy 18-year-old Sergachev.
”We think he has a very bright future,” said Yzerman. ”He’s starting his entry-level contract.
“Expansion draft does have some effect. It helps us in acquiring a player that we don’t have to protect versus someone we’ll have to protect. Ultimately our biggest need and our biggest goal was to acquire a puck-moving young defenceman and we were able to do that.
“Ultimately, this was a deal we felt made sense for us and the fit was with the Montreal Canadiens and we were able to reach an agreement.”
Bergevin is likely not done dealing. There are reports that he is shopping young forward Alex Galchenyuk, who they don’t feel is able to handle a top-line centre’s job.
And with Sergachev gone, they may look for another defenceman, although Bergevin said he has two good defence prospects left in Brett Learnout and Noah Juulsen.
The Canadiens also inked forward prospect Charles Hudon to the two-year deal. The first year is two-way (AHL and NHL) and the second is one-way (NHL only).