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Stu Cowan: Canadiens' Jonathan Drouin puts his first stamp on city

Talk about pressure.

Former Canadiens captain and general manager Serge Savard spoke Tuesday about how Jonathan Drouin could become the Jean Béliveau figure for today’s young generation of hockey fans in Montreal.

There will never be another Béliveau — the classiest player to ever wear the CH — but in a city starving for a French-Canadian hockey superstar, Drouin could become the next-closest thing.

Could.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 22-year-old who has yet to play a single game with the Canadiens and will make his pre-season debut Wednesday night when the Washington Capitals visit the Bell Centre (7 p.m., RDS).

On Tuesday afternoon, Drouin held a news conference at Montreal’s new CHUM hospital to announce he will be donating $500,000 of his own money — $50,000 a year for the next 10 years — along with becoming an ambassador for the Fondation du CHUM, with a goal of helping raise another $5 million over 10 years.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin acquired Drouin from the Tampa Lightning on June 15 in exchange for top defence prospect Mikhail Sergachev and then signed the Ste-Agathe native to a six-year contract worth US$33 million — an average of $5.5 million per season.

“Today, those guys are making a lot of money,” said Savard, who is a member of the Fondation du CHUM and joined Drouin at Tuesday’s news conference. “And when you look at that, if you make $6 million and you give $50,000 a year, it’s not a big deal and you get tax receipts. But it’s a commitment, and being involved in the community and doing something for your community I think it’s something that you have to do. And by doing that, it’s going to give a great lift to this foundation, to this hospital.

“It’s not only hockey players that make money,” Savard added. “Other people will look at this and say: ‘Well, maybe I should do something.’ It’s a great gesture.’ ”

Drouin’s gesture will no doubt be compared to the one P.K. Subban made two years ago when he was with the Canadiens, pledging $10 million over seven years to the Montreal Children’s Hospital after signing an eight-year, US$72-million contract. Subban didn’t donate $10 million, but made a pledge to raise that much money through his P.K.’s Helping Hand program and kept the commitment even after being traded to the Nashville Predators last summer.

No matter how much money actually comes out of the pockets of Drouin and Subban, two hospitals in the city are expected to end up with a combined $15.5 million because of them — which is fantastic. Both players should be applauded loudly for that.

One big difference with Drouin’s news conference Tuesday and Subban’s two years ago is that there was a Canadiens presence for Drouin with captain Max Pacioretty in attendance, along with Donald Beauchamp, the club’s senior vice-president of communications, and Savard. When Subban visited the Montreal Children’s Hospital last season when the Predators were in town he was joined by captain Mike Fisher and Roman Josi, saying it was the first time any teammates had ever gone to the hospital with him, apart from the Canadiens’ annual team Christmas visit.

Subban is gone and Drouin looks like he could be a player to replace him in Montreal in terms of popularity and the ability to bring fans out of their seats. Drouin will also be under a very bright spotlight — something Subban thrived in.

Drouin was joined by his girlfriend, Marye-Laurence Berthiaume, at Tuesday’s news conference and the young couple is getting accustomed to living in Montreal’s hockey fishbowl together. Berthiaume, who grew up in Blainville, has been with Drouin for two years after first being introduced by mutual friends.

“He’s really good with stress and pressure,” Berthiaume said about her boyfriend. “He handles this very well. 

“He’s very transparent … he’s very honest with everything, so people kind of know him already. So that’s really good. He will do well this season.”

Savard said he spoke with Drouin after the Fondation du CHUM reached out to the player and his agent, Allan Walsh, about helping them and Savard highly recommended Drouin take the opportunity to get involved in the community. Savard said when he first joined the Canadiens as a player he learned from Béliveau the importance of doing that.

When asked about being mentioned by Savard in the same breath as Béliveau, Drouin said: “If at the end of my career I am compared to Jean Béliveau, it’s going to be a huge honour for me. He was a great man. I never really saw him play, but when you hear people talk about Jean it’s always ‘classy’ the first word that comes.”

Said Savard about Drouin: “Young kids will look at him as a hero, and if your hero is a good citizen … if your hero is getting involved in the community, he’ll get the respect of the community. And that’s the way it should be.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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http://montrealgazette.com/sports/hockey/nhl/montreal-canadiens/stu-cowan-canadiens-jonathan-drouin-puts-his-first-stamp-on-city