After a disappointing postseason where the Colorado Avalanche lost in the first round to the Seattle Kraken and weren’t able to defend their Stanley Cup title, plenty of moves were made in the offseason to improve the team’s roster in order to make another run. One of those notable additions was Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin. The former third overall pick once had high expectations, but his career has been riddled with setback after setback. However, the excitement surrounding Drouin joining the Avs mostly has to do with the fact that he would be reunited with former juniors teammate, Nathan MacKinnon. With the 2023-24 season about to begin, the expectations for the Avalanche remain high, but the focus remains on these two players who will be playing together for the first time in over a decade.
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MacKinnon and Drouin both played for the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) from 2011-2013. The duo won the Memorial Cup in 2013 and were unstoppable for the Mooseheads. In the two seasons they played together, MacKinnon had 153 points in 102 games while Drouin collected 134 points in 82 games. Not only were they fantastic teammates, but they became close friends too. By the time the 2013 NHL Entry Draft rolled around, both players were expected to be picked high. Sure enough, MacKinnon went first overall to the Avalanche and Drouin went third overall to the Lightning. The friends went pro and they saw each other whenever the teams played each other, but their careers went in very different directions the moment they made it to the NHL.
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MacKinnon became a household name and franchise player in Denver almost immediately. Despite the first few years of his NHL career not being up to par to what MacKinnon does now, he still won the Calder Trophy his rookie year and amassed 206 points in 300 regular season games through his first four campaigns. After the Avs finished dead last in the league following the 2016-17 season, MacKinnon turned into the superstar that he is today. In 409 games since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, MacKinnon has been a point-per-game player as he’s collected a total of 553 points (209G, 344A) which is the third highest amount among all players in the league in that span. He has also been a Hart Trophy finalist for several years and won the Lady Byng in 2019-20. And of course, MacKinnon became a Stanley Cup Champion in 2022 when the Avalanche finally reached the peak and defeated the Lightning for the franchise’s third championship, but first with the current core of players. It’s fair to say that MacKinnon is one of the most well known players in the NHL and continues to get better and better each year.
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Drouin, on the other hand, has not been so lucky. Unlike MacKinnon, Drouin played an extra year in the QMJHL and made his NHL debut in 2014. But his career got a rocky start in Tampa where he played his first three years of professional hockey. In 164 games with the Lightning, he recorded only 95 points before he was traded to Montreal in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev in 2017. Drouin’s six seasons with the Canadiens were still full of obstacles. He missed a substantial amount of time throughout his time in Montreal due to a variety of injuries and his play struggled severely as he only potted 48 goals and 138 assists (186 points) in 321 games. He also entered the NHL Player Assistance Program near the end of the 2021 season and many believed that his career might have been over. Once he returned to the team, the pressure kept mounting for him to find his footing, but it never seemed to happen. Now at 28, the forward is on his third NHL team and the hope is that being reunited with MacKinnon will bring his game back to life.
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There are both big expectations about seeing the dynamic duo back together in Colorado, but also a huge opportunity for Drouin to succeed with this team. Both MacKinnon and Drouin have spoken openly about playing together again and it’s known that MacKinnon played a role in getting his longtime friend to join his current team. “We definitely were texting quite a bit in the past couple of weeks. Obviously, I’ve known Nate for a while now,” Drouin said in a teleconference call with the media after he signed in Colorado. “To get a text from him at this time in my career, it’s something I was looking forward to. Not only Nate, but everyone on the Colorado Avalanche. It’s such a great opportunity for me and they’re a great team.”
Training camp and preseason has revealed how killer this duo is and their chemistry is clearly still evident. Everyday after practice, MacKinnon and Drouin stayed on the ice after the rest of the team had left to work on various skills together. They have also been playing on the top line in the preseason with MacKinnon at center and Drouin slotting in as the left wing, a position that has seen a rotating cast of players since captain Gabriel Landeskog has left the spot vacant due to a major knee injury/surgery. And MacKinnon is a player that makes anyone playing with him infinitely better. Between his hockey IQ, insane skill and determination, he naturally makes everyone around him play their very best, especially those on the same line as him which means Drouin will see the first hand effects of being reunited with his longtime friend.
While the Avs remain a Cup contender coming into the 2023-24 season and hope to bring another championship back to Denver, the expectations remain high on Drouin and his potential resurgence. He’s only on a one year deal right now, but could prove that he’s worth staying as a permanent fixture to the team. Only time will tell what the future holds for the duo back together in the NHL, but one thing is for sure, fans are excited to see what MacKinnon and Drouin will do on the ice this season.