Jonathan Drouin's trade to the Montreal Canadiens has been on the lips of all Lightning fans in recent years. 1,500 miles north, Habs fans have been talking about losing their top defensive prospect, 18-year-old-Russian Mikhail Sergachev, in exchange for Drouin.
While Lightning fans have mostly reacted negatively to the trade, opinion in Montreal appears to be mixed. Stu Cowan, sports columnist for the Montreal Gazzette, said the deal caught Canadiens fans off guard, but the majority support the deal.
"It's sort of split, but I think there's more fans like the trade," Cowan said. "I know we have a poll on our website where more fans, 67 percent, said they think it's a good deal. I think one of the surprises is that in his postmortem [General Manager] Marc Bergevin said that he wouldn't trade Sergachev. But he explained that yesterday when I asked him about that and he said that the main difference is that he's trading a young player for a young player."
Among Canadiens fans, Drouin's local upbringing has made him popular before he even takes to the ice. A Francophone who grew up 60 miles from Montreal in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, Drouin is exactly the kind of player Canadiens fans have been looking for, Editor of All Habs Hockey Magazine Rick Stephens said.
"It's kind of silly, but immediately fans and the media, particularly the French-speaking media, started making comparisons with Stephan Richer, Patrick Roy and the other 'Great French Hopes,'" Stephens said. "There's been a real aching for that kind of player, one of their own players to be a star. And over the past few years, when the Canadiens have drafted that kind of player and they've been a huge bust and failure it's been a disappointment to the fanbase. They want someone of their own to cheer for. There's an American captain, the best player on the team, Carey Price, is from British Columbia and they want to have a local guy in there. Sometimes it's been to the detriment of the team they way they try to get these guys, but in this case you've got a combination of both talent and someone who's local."
While off-the-ice factors may contribute to the reaction in Montreal, Drouin's ability on the ice as a dynamic offensive player has been a reason why Canadiens fans support the trade too. Cowan said Drouin fills a hole on a team looking to compete for a Stanley Cup right away.
"The Canadiens are a team where offense has been the biggest problem," Cowan said. "Going into the playoffs last season, Bergevin said he was confident in the offense he had. But obviously that didn't work in the playoffs and I think this has been the reaction to that. He's realizing that he does need an offensive player."
Although the addition of Drouin has been popular, there are some in Montreal who feel that Sergachev has too bright a future to be sent away.
"He is the real deal," Stephens said. "He's a blue chip prospect. Mikhail Sergachev is going to be a top-pair defenceman in the NHL very very soon for a long time. His performance when he was called up at the beginning of the year, he wasn't always making the fastest decisions and he was targeted a lot, but he looked very good. When he went back into the juniors he was spectacular and played a big role in the Memorial Cup. He has good size, he skates well, he's good with the puck, he's got a great shot, he's got a cannon of a slap shot.
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"I think Lightning fans are only disappointed because they don't know Sergachev. If he continues to develop the way he has, he's going to be a spectacular player."