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Masters: Drouin's energy leads to starring role for Canada

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Mark Masters, TSN.ca
1/2/2013 4:45:35 PM
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UFA, RUSSIA – Jonathan Drouin never stops going.

"I always use the analogy that it feels like I brought my little brother along, because he's always bouncing off the walls out of control," said Canadian centre Ryan Strome, who started the World Junior Championship with Drouin on his line. "Seriously, it's something special. I don't know how he turns it off or if he ever turns it off. He's always got a [soda] or caffeine in his hands so we try and keep him away from the caffeine."

"He's definitely a hyper little guy," said Mark Scheifele, Drouin's roommate during last month's selection camp in Calgary. "He's always talking. We'll be playing Xbox and he screams when he scores. It's just hilarious to hear him. He brings a lot of energy to everybody, because he has that little kid in him."

Right now nobody knows this better than defenceman Morgan Rielly and left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who are rooming with Drouin in Ufa.

"He's always chatting away," said Rielly. "He's pretty wired. He's a goof."

As you can imagine getting to sleep in that room isn't easy.

"Sometimes we got to tie him up to the bed and he'll get better when he's tied down," Huberdeau said with a wry grin. 

"He makes us feel old and we're only 19-years-old," said defenceman Scott Harrington. "He's bouncing off the walls 24/7 and I think it's infectious."

The person in Ufa, who is best equipped to weather Hurricane Drouin is Nate MacKinnon. The pair are best friends off the ice and linemates on it when they play for the Halifax Mooseheads. And even MacKinnon has noticed that Drouin has taken his Drouin-ness to a new level.

"Actually he's louder here than in Halifax, surprisingly," MacKinnon said. "The guys are asking me, you know, if he's like this in Halifax and he's not. I think he's just fired up to be here and he's having a great time."

THE TURNING POINT

That boundless energy allowed Drouin, a draft-eligible dynamo, to not just make Canada's world junior team in a lockout year, but take on a starring role. On Monday, he made head coach Steve Spott look brilliant for promoting him to the first line by scoring Canada's third goal in a 3-1 win over the host Russians.

"I don't consider that a gamble when you're dealing with a player like Jonathan," said Spott. "He's just a world-class player and some players can handle that type of opportunity and he handled it very well."

That's an incredible statement when you consider Drouin wasn't even a safe bet to get invited to Canada's selection camp. When Spott visited Halifax to do some scouting Drouin was out with an injury. But Spott's Team Canada assistants – Rouyn-Noranda's Andre Tourigny and Drummondville's Mario Duhamel, who get to see Drouin in the QMJHL and Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast – lobbied for him.

"They said, 'This boy has to come to our camp. He has to,'" Spott recalled on Wednesday.

And when he hit the ice in Calgary he made a major impact. And that's why Strome wasn't shocked when Drouin cracked the roster.

"Once I saw him at camp, the first day, I said to [Niagara IceDogs winger Brett] Ritchie, 'This guy is going to make the team,' he was that good," said Strome. "It was no surprise."

"I was a little surprised, because it's a lockout and a lot of 19-year-olds were supposed to make it," said Drouin. "But I had a pretty good camp and I think I showed what I needed to show and they rewarded me."

After making the team Drouin was slotted in as a second-line player, but there was no guarantee he would stick in the top six forward group. What sealed his place was one specific play in the final pre-tournament game against Sweden. Drouin was asked by Spott to serve Boone Jenner's major penalty for charging (the Oshawa Generals centre was also ejected) and was supposed to come to the bench after leaving the box.

"That's probably a turning point, because he came out of the box and he looked me off and he saw something that I didn't see and that's why [he] will be in the NHL and that was a key moment in the game and a key moment for him where I saw something that a lot of the NHL scouts and the guys on my staff had told me they'd seen," Spott said.

Drouin's speed and skill are evident on the ice, but it's his hockey sense that may be the most impressive thing about him.

"I saw him look at me and he told me to come to the bench when the five minutes ended, but I saw [Ty] Rattie, who made a pretty nice pass to me and I buried it," said Drouin. "I think it turned out pretty good even though he gave me a dirty look on the way."

'HE'S WITHOUT FEAR'

Drouin's goal against the Russians showcased both his quick feet and incredibly deft touch as he beat goalie Andrei Makarov to the post on a wraparound.

"He's such a special player," said Scheifele. "I was honoured to be on the same line as him. He opens up so much space and is so good down low, such good hands, so quick."

"He's awesome," said Huberdeau, who lost his top-line spot to Drouin. "He's 17 and you can't see it on the ice even though he's wearing a full visor, it doesn't matter."

Despite never practicing on the same line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele before Drouin seemed to find a rhythm with them right away.

"We kind of play similar games a little bit and I think that kind of helps out," said Nugent-Hopkins. "Right away I think we found some chemistry."

Despite his status as the second-youngest player on the team, Drouin never seems to let the moment get to him.

"He's without fear," said Spott. "He's not afraid of the puck. He doesn't turn it over and I think that says a lot about his mindset as a hockey player that he has that elite ability to want to keep the puck and make plays and that's not natural for a guy like that."

'I DON'T THINK THERE ARE ANY HOLES IN HIS GAME'

Coming into the World Junior Championship it was MacKinnon, who was considered a hotter draft prospect. American defenceman Seth Jones, Finnish forward Aleksander Barkov and Swedish forward Elias Lindholm were also generating a lot of buzz. But it is Drouin, who has used this big stage to help himself the most. 

"I think he's going to be in the top three if he keeps going the way he's going," said Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke, who is in Ufa taking in some of the games. "He has a dad and brother, who are both taller than he is [5-foot-10.5]. We think that he can still grow some, but really there's not a weakness in his game. Maybe his d-zone coverage can get a little better and certainly he needs to get bigger and stronger, but I don't think there are any holes in his game."

Burke recently went to Halifax to watch MacKinnon and before the game was even over had called his head of amateur scouting, Dave Morrison, and told him wherever they had Drouin rated they should move him up.

"I think sometimes when you play with a great player people attribute your success to that player, but this is a guy who does a lot on his own," said Burke. "He distributes the puck well. He has a real high hockey IQ. He's got really soft hands and he can finish so he is rapidly climbing the charts."

Jonathan Drouin (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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