Jonathan Drouin, Lightning making it work after rocky start
Young star rounding into dependable pro after holdout, injuries
To say the Tampa Bay Lightning's plan for Jonathan Drouin has not gone according to script is an understatement.
In fact, there are many who are shocked the 21-year-old left winger is still a member of Lightning, given his tumultuous relationship with management.
Had things worked out, the third-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft would be lighting it up while playing on a line with superstar Steven Stamkos. Instead, though, the two are rarely in the lineup at the same time.
Between injuries to the pair, Drouin's delayed arrival as a regular in the Lightning's lineup and that trade demand last season, he has not been the instant star Tampa Bay envisioned it was getting. And yet, the future for Drouin looks bright.
"He's in command of himself and his game," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper following the Lightning's 4-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. Drouin led the Lightning with a goal – the game winner – and an assist.
Creativity and confidence
Drouin has eight goals and 17 points in 25 games and with each passing game is becoming a more important piece of the puzzle in Tampa Bay. He is showing the creativity and confidence that made him the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League's player of the year in 2012-13 as a member of the Halifax Mooseheads. It was assumed he would step right into the Lightning's lineup and become an immediate impact NHLer.
That didn't happen.
In a nutshell, Drouin failed to make the Lightning in his first stab at turning pro, was returned to junior for the 2013-14 season where he put up 108 points in 48 games, was in and out of Tampa Bay's lineup as a rookie and then, after being sent to Syracuse of the American Hockey League last season, packed his bags and went home demanding to be traded.
Tampa Bay general manager took the request under advisement and, well, did nothing. The NHL's trade deadline passed, Drouin tucked his tail between his legs and returned to Syracuse and to an organization that welcomed him back with open arms.
Upon being recalled by the Lightning, Drouin began the process of becoming a dependable pro. In fact, while helping the Lightning make it to the Eastern Conference final, Drouin emerged as a go-to player for the Lightning scoring five goals and 14 points in 17 post-season games.
Turning the corner
His play was good enough to get him an invite to play for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey where he had a goal in three games for the 23-and-under crew.
This season has not exactly been smooth sailing, but Drouin appears to have turned a corner. After missing seven games with a lower body injury early in the season, Drouin has helped pick up some of the slack created by a knee injury that has put Stamkos on the shelf. Drouin has five goals and 10 points in his past eight games.
"When Drouin is on the ice there is a good chance at some point good things are going to happen in the offensive end," Cooper said. "He's got that kind of talent."
Cooper's biggest challenge in coaching Drouin has been convincing the offensive star that putting more effort into the defensive side of the game will ultimately lead to more scoring chances. The message seems to have finally been driven home.
For his part, the eternally shy Drouin likes the way things are going for him now.
"I feel I've been playing well lately," Drouin said. "It's the same way I feel I've always played, but I'm getting more rewarded for it."
And who knows, maybe one day Drouin will hook up with Stamkos and give the Lightning that great one-two punch it has been looking for.