Growing up the son of a coach, I've heard a ton of motivational one-liners and just about every galvanizing phrase in the coaches handbook. One always stuck with me: "Strangers become teammates, teammates become friends, and friends become family." The Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin story might epitomize that phrase.
#Avs forward Jonathan Drouin said he and Nathan MacKinnon texted a lot in recent weeks. They were junior teammates.— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) July 3, 2023
“I’m just super excited to join the Avs.” He said he thinks he needs a fresh start after ups and downs in Montreal. pic.twitter.com/3M5UZOREji
Some unconfirmable reports suggest that they may have played a game together as early as ten years of age, but the real story began in 2011. Jonathan Drouin went second overall in the QMJHL draft to the Halifax Mooseheads behind, guess who, Nathan MacKinnon. Bale-Comeau Drakkar initially selected MacKinnon, but he didn't speak French, and it was looking like he would play college hockey if he couldn't find an English-speaking team. This prompted the Mooseheads to trade their next two first-round picks for MacKinnon, and they began a memorable junior career side by side.
Top prospect MacKinnon part of big QMJHL trade: The Halifax Mooseheads finally got their man Wednesday, acquirin... http://bit.ly/nQj1jf— Robbie Broatch (@NHLstanleycup) July 13, 2011
Funny enough, Drouin didn't immediately begin playing for the Mooseheads, staying in AAA midget to start the season. Only some Facebook messages from his new buddy Nathan could convince him to jump to the Q. MacKinnon has said, "We used to talk on Facebook a little bit. It was like online dating; we just talked on Facebook. Never met before, but I was just like, what are you doing? Come to Halifax. We need you here."
Attempting to bring the MacKinnon-Drouin bromance to Long Island pic.twitter.com/ofy0TF5i7Q— (@IslesSGM) June 23, 2014
Ah, yes, the start of every true bromance began on Facebook Messenger back in 2011. From there, the two young hockey phenoms were inseparable on and off the ice. The upside showed on the ice for two characters and styles that complimented each other. In 93 regular season games, the two tallied a whopping 180 points. That was 105 points in 49 games for Drouin and 75 points for Nathan MacKinnon in 44 games. It's said that Nate drove Drouin to school and practice, and the two grew closer and closer as the numbers piled up. The two would go on to win The Memorial Cup together in 2013 in dominating fashion, winning 16 of their 17 playoff matchups. With that dominance, they were both destined to be top picks in the same NHL draft class.
NHL draft day came and went, seeing Nathan MacKinnon going first to the Colorado Avalanche while Jonathan was drafted third overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It looked like the fairy tale had ended happily ever after, with both young men looking ahead to promising careers in different American cities. When Drouin inked his ELC with the Lightning, MacKinnon sent Jo a tweet stating it was his turn to pay for Sushi. MacKinnon then signed his ELC with the Avalanche, and Drouin quickly handed MacKinnon the bill. I'd wager MacKinnon is doing a lot of the buying nowadays, and if they like Sushi so much, keep an eye out for them at Matsuhisa in Denver. We also got to see them for a beautiful moment in time, that was the World Cup of Hockey. They were teammates on the legendary North American team.
This Mackinnon/Drouin hug after Drouin's goal is so adorable pic.twitter.com/81OizwNtGg— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) September 19, 2016
Fast forward to 2023, and the Colorado Avalanche have found a way to reunite the two incredibly close friends, but a lot has happened since then for both players, with MacKinnon seeing the most consistent success, culminating in a Stanley Cup victory in 2022.
Drouin has had an unlucky career, with most of his success being in Montreal with the Canadiens. His time in Tampa was quite anticlimactic and slightly controversial as he refused to report to the Syracuse Crunch when they reassigned him in 2016. His agent stated that Drouin requested a trade as early as 2015 but wasn't moved to Montreal until 2017. He's suffered numerous injuries, openly struggled with anxiety and insomnia, got sidelined by a puck to the head, and was suspended for cross-checking Tyler Seguin. Ultimately, he became a healthy scratch under new Habs coach Martin St. Louis. These contrasting careers show just how difficult it can be to be a big-time player in the NHL.
MacKinnon's jersey will be retired back in Halifax on September 25th, a trip I'd imagine both players will take and enjoy as teammates again. It should stir up some beautiful memories. Hopefully, their relationship effectively sways some of Drouin's anxiety and can add to his comfort level. Maybe they can return to having fun like those two kids did in Halifax if the #chemistryisstillthere. Colorado's move to acquire Drouin could become the next big story in the NHL. I hope so!