Heading into this season, I was hopeful, excited, and anticipating the arrival of Jonathan Drouin in Colorado. It's not settled yet, as we are just six games into the season, but I think we can get a more realistic look at the situation now. Let's face it: all of the chatter before puck drop was just conjecture, and as they say, the proof is in the pudding. These days' pudding can look different from one fan to another, so I've decided to break this down in two ways: I'll analyze via the fabled "eye test" and then do the trusted but often confusing analytic deep dive.
Drouin's performance to the eye
As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it would be hard to behold Drouin's start as much of a success thus far. His time with the top group and Nathan MacKinnon has all but settled as not the best option, with him currently spending the most time on the Avalanche third line. If I do put on my rose-colored glasses, I will say he's looked better on the third line than he did with the top guns. Hopefully, he can carry the puck more and create on the third line, which drives his game. He'd have been on the board, and this article might have a slightly different tone had Miles Wood's goal not been called back for offside against the Blackhawks in the home opener.
Jonathan Drouin just fired off a MISSILE for this surgical assist pic.twitter.com/1fK895KJ7D— Liam (@Blutman27) October 20, 2023
Plays like this genuinely show his potential as a creator, and wouldn't you know it with the third forward group? Tatar also has looked great with the top line outside of some penalties and has a defensive game that probably does a better job of satiating Bednar's expectations.
I will say that where Drouin fits into the lineup doesn't necessarily show head coach Jared Bednar's confidence in him. At this season stage, coaches are tinkering, learning, and altering their lineups to see their strategic options. I don't know how much weight I'd put into his inability to stay on the top line. Bednar has since gone with Tomas Tatar up there, proving my point.
The Avalanche coaching staff attempts to find the ultimate equilibrium of gritty and dangerous throughout the forward group. A giant part of that is being allowed to keep Arturri Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin driving the second line. That luxury affords even more depth further down the lineup. That's the goal, as it allows for a more sustainable ice-time distribution. It doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s Drouin or Tatar from time to time. You must ride the hot hand and put the other skater on the third line.
To the eye, Drouin has only shown his potential but has yet to fulfill it. To say he has a ton of hockey left to prove himself is an understatement. That could very well start tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins. If he gets the goal monkey off his back or has a multiple-point night, I think he'll be off to the races. Sometimes, an empty netter takes some pressure off and gives a player more confidence.
Analytic deep dive
I hope you've got your water wings cause we are taking a plunge into the numbers deep end here. Before the season started, Jonathan Drouin was on NHL satellite radio, and he mentioned that he did not like to guess numbers but that getting to 30 goals would be nice. We'd need to see a drastic turnaround for Jo if that goal is to come to fruition. Let's start by looking at his up-to-date player card courtesy of JFresh.
At first glance, this is pretty daunting, but it has metrics dating back to 2020, which can heavily sway the numbers given that this year's sample size is so tiny. With that said, His 1st assist percentage is the thing I key on, and that's why I mentioned him being on a line where he will carry the puck is so essential. He's a pass-first guy, plain and simple.
He undoubtedly needs to improve defensively and in the finishing category. His goals and EV offense are weighed down by his inability to finish and score goals, and if he's serious about being a 20-30 goal scorer, that has to change.
Now, let's look at some metrics from MoneyPuck.com and see how Jonathan Drouin has faired per 60 minutes and in terms of creating dangerous opportunities for teammates. I also want to see how his giveaways stack up against his takeaways. His lack of scoring will be a huge issue if he's a defensive liability. It's an issue either way on a team as defensively accountable as the Colorado Avalanche.
There isn't much to draw from this other than if you think Drouin has been giving the puck away a lot, in reality, he’s not doing so more than anyone else on the roster so far. That said, he gets less ice time than the players he's surrounded by on this list and hasn't made a dent in takeaways—probably not a good sign.
Oddly enough, despite his decreasing minutes from game to game, Drouin still ranks in the top 10 among Avalanche players in expected goals per 60 minutes. Then comes that inability to finish that we discussed with the player card. It's clear that Jonathan Drouin has the skill set to score, but maybe it's still a confidence thing. He needs to have a good stretch of games; sooner is better.
Lastly, I want to observe his speed tendencies to see if he genuinely fits the identity of this Avalanche squad in terms of his skating ability.
Jonathan Drouin is a speed fit in terms of his top speed, but the burst number sticks out to me. If Drouin can't have bursts that can keep up with Nathan MacKinnon, it will be tough for him to cash in on the transitional advantage MacKinnon's speed brings. I know MacK's usual line mate, Rantanen, isn't the fastest, but he's got a frame and is an accurate sniper who can wait for a drop from MacKinnon and cash in on the open look from just about anywhere. Jonathan doesn't have that skillset, so If he can't cash in on transition points, I don't see him scoring many other ways with the top group, and so I agree with Bednar in thinking he's a better fit in the middle six.
After a deep look into the performance of Jonathan Drouin so far, I’d say we’d all prefer he got off to a better start. It takes anyone time to get acquainted with a new squad, so let's give him more time for a turnaround.
I was slightly discouraged by Jonathan’s line demotion. Still, I don’t think Bednar is trying to find the perfect combos, as much as he’s learning what different playstyles each combo can bring and then using the appropriate lineup for the night’s matchup.
The numbers can absolutely turn around once Drouin finds his happy place and linemates that facilitate his strengths. Not to say that MacKinnon and Rantanen can’t bring the best out of anyone. I think his fit might be elsewhere, after all.
What do you think of Jonathan Drouin’s performance so far? Do you like him better on that third line as well? Let us know in the comments!