Should the Flyers trade up for Jonathan Drouin?

If your answer to the question above was “no”, perhaps this may change your mind..

If your response was “yes”, then you may be aware of the Halifax Mooseheads’ superstar forward Jonathan Drouin.

The “Halifax Houdini” has hands spun of silk that he puts on display each night as he scripts new tapestry. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound weapon dangles around top QMJHL defensemen as if they are parking cones. The Moosehead winger can stickhandle inside a phone booth and come out of traffic with the puck seemingly glued to his blade. However, the most brilliant aspect of Drouin’s offensive repertoire is that his mental awareness can keep up with his hands.

Hockey sense is what makes players like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Claude Giroux the most dangerous skaters in the world. Each of these stars possesses fantastic offensive vision, outstanding hands, and great creativity. Many players in the NHL possess more than one of these playmaking traits, but the ability to slow down the game while playing at the fastest level is saved for the best. Crosby, Kane, and Giroux are the best because they have the mental fortitude to slow down the game in their heads while speeding it up with their hands and feet.

If thinking about a 17-year-old kid possessing wizardly gifts that already draw comparisons to NHL stars alarms you, perhaps this will ease your doubts.

This goal is a terrific representation of Drouin’s gifted abilities. He has the presence of mind to regroup in his own zone, controlling the puck on his stick instead of blindly throwing it out to center. Then, his acceleration and explosive strides immediately turn up ice heading north through the neutral zone, so he can enter the offensive zone with speed. The Halifax forward crossed the bluel ine displaying his strength and ability to shield the puck while maintaining position. Drouin’s cut into the slot and finish is pure instinct that cannot be taught but lies inside true superstars.

I also want to mention that goal came this year against the defending Memorial Cup champion Shawinigan Cataractes. Yes, Shawinigan is not the same team as a year ago, but they could not stop Drouin from carving them like a Thanksgiving turkey. Then again, no teams have been safe from Halifax’s wrath this season as the Mooseheads finished 27 points ahead of the second-best record in the entire league. This kind of dominance tends to happen when one team has Drouin and NHL Central Scouting’s top prospect entering this season Nathan MacKinnon. Add the top-rated goaltender entering the 2013 NHL Draft in Zachary Fucale. All three players were in the top 10 of Craig Button’s monthly draft eligible prospect rankings on TSN, making Halifax the only team to hold that honor.

Image courtesy of Jeff Harper

MacKinnon (far left) spent the majority of this season as the projected consensus number one overall pick leading up to the draft. He continued his success thanks in part to a full season for Drouin. Fucale (middle) finished the regular season with the second-ranked goals-against-average and save percentage in the Q. But, the focus now lies upon the Quebec native who finished second in the league in points with 105. Scoring 41 goals and adding 64 assists is an outstanding total for an entire season, let alone putting up that amount in just 49 games with Halifax.

Drouin spent time away from the Mooseheads with MacKinnon playing for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships where they finished fourth. Even though Drouin was a bubble-player heading into Canada’s prospect camp, he flourished playing with more experienced teammates. The young teenager took advantage of the international stage and continued to display his dominance over defensemen from all over the world.

When Drouin and MacKinnon returned to Halifax the duo picked up right where they left off until MacKinnon sustained a lower-body injury during a February game against Moncton. This was the moment when Drouin could finally step out from behind MacKinnon’s shadow and stake his own claim for the top honor come draft day.

Drouin set a blazing pace without MacKinnon in the lineup, setting up the same plays with different players on his line. MacKinnon’s injury was a blessing in disguise for Drouin who proved to the hockey community that he did not need Nathan MacKinnon to be a dominant force. Instead, his play began to raise questions wondering if MacKinnon needed Drouin more than Drouin needed MacKinnon.

 

Image courtesy of Nathan Denette

 

This picture signifies the most underrated parts of Drouin’s game. Not only does he possess offensive gifts that are rarely handed out, but also he contributes defensively by back-checking and has an edge to his game. Heading into this season I had questions regarding his physicality and meanness. It seems rightfully so considering a player more often talked about for his dazzling highlight reel plays than his bone-crushing hits. Although Drouin may not throw thundering hip checks, he is nasty in tight corners and will fight his way out with the puck regardless of the defenseman’s size. The tough Moosehead doesn’t shy away from tough opponents, as can be seen above where Drouin checked Team USA forward Ryan Hartman into the open door on Team Canada’s bench.

The Flyers will most likely be involved in the lottery system at the end of the season and will draft in the upper half of the first round. Drouin is an absolute lock for a top-five selection, which means if the Flyers or any other team wanted his services, they may have to trade up.

It is known the Flyers need defensive depth and they may look at the draft to fulfill its needs. The free agency market for young NCAA talent is already dwindling as the Flyers missed out on signing massive defenseman Andrej Sustr. But, next to Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin is as much of a lock as any draft eligible prospect. Just imagine Drouin lined up on the wing with Jakub Voracek and Giroux centering would strike fear into any defensive pair in the NHL.

With inevitable movements on the horizon, the Flyers are in the midst of an identity change. As Philadelphia tries to re-capture the aura of a tough, blue-collar band of brothers, making a move to draft Drouin could be the first major stamp on the new identity that this organization covets.