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Jonathan Drouin is Thriving in His Return to Hockey

Jonathan Drouin is an incredibly talented hockey player. But sometimes, he had a tough time showing it. After sharing his story of fighting anxiety, Drouin is back in a big way for the Montreal Canadiens.
Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin is an incredibly talented hockey player. But sometimes, he had a tough time showing it.

As the hockey world learned earlier this month, Drouin wasn't in the right headspace for the past bit and his performance showed. After missing the second half of 2020-21 and the entirety of Montreal's shock playoff run, Drouin revealed he suffered from anxiety and insomnia last season and elected to take a break to get back into a better spot in his life.

From a loud ovation during the red and white scrimmage over the weekend to expanded cheers on Monday against Toronto, the fans clearly appreciate Drouin and everything he has had to do just to get back to the sport he loves. And it helps that he posted two assists in the opening period against the Leafs on Monday, re-entering the game in a huge way.

On the ice, you could still see a bit of rust in Drouin's game. But for the most part, he looked in incredible shape, his trademark vision when finding teammates with the puck was intact and he battled for every puck like he had something to prove. And he did: to coach Dom Ducharme that he's ready to return to full-time NHL duty; and to himself that he can overcome his struggles to excel on and off the ice.

“I’m not shy about talking about it," Drouin said following Monday's game. "I’m not shy about helping other people.”

Anxiety, even for professional athletes, is a challenge to overcome. Before eventually stepping back, you could tell something wasn't right. Drouin, the No. 3 pick from the 2013 draft, entered the league as a skilled teenager, but never seemed to live up to the hype that saw him selected behind Nathan MacKinnon and Aleksander Barkov. Drouin had 213 points over his final two QMJHL seasons and has a pair of 53-point campaigns with Tampa Bay and Montreal, but the skilled playmaker never really broke out in the way most expected in his first seven NHL seasons.

So in a way, the determined, refreshed forward looked a bit like the player fans knew he could be. Drouin has the talent to be a strong top-six forward in the NHL, and the 2021-22 season is a chance for him to re-emerge in a big way. His one pre-season game isn't much to go off, but it still felt special seeing how the crowd embraced him and how Drouin rewarded the fanbase with a big night.

The impact of the Drouin, Christian Dvorak and Josh Anderson line was noticeable on Monday. If that indeed makes up Montreal's top line, with Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield being the front-line, that could be one heck of a top six. Mix in Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia and the Canadiens have something to work with in the team's defense of the Stanley Cup final berth. Many don't expect the Canadiens to go far this year, but there are many reasons to get excited if you're a Canadiens fan – and Drouin's return is one of them.

Playing in Montreal as a player of Drouin's caliber, the pressure will always be there for the winger to perform. Drouin is a hockey nut, someone who consistently is working to learn about the game in any way possible. He knows the challenges of playing in a hockey hotbed like Montreal. That can be tough for anyone, regardless of talent. Hopefully, Drouin's return to the ice can be part of the healing process he needs to continue and he can thrive in a way most know he can.

"I had to take a break," Drouin said. "I did and I feel good about it. I'm happy to be back."

And, clearly, the fans are happy he's back, too.

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