The Tampa Bay Lightning are getting a surprising boost from Jonathan Drouin this postseason, and all the hockey fans in Central Florida can finally appreciate the talent that have been dying for at a time when it is most needed.
The front office, however, will likely spend the offseason in a tight position. Come June and July, a decision will have to be made on what to do with a player that is supposedly a “bust”.
Flashback to the turn of the New Year, and Drouin was certainly not celebrating. After collecting just two goals and eight assists, he was optioned down to the AHL. While the on-ice production was a concern for the former third pick, his off-ice attitude had also been a problem. After being reassigned, Drouin requested a trade, in which vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman responded:
“Moving forward, my sole intention is to act in the best interest of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club. In the meantime, Jonathan has been assigned to our American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and we expect him to report for practice with the rest of his teammates this Tuesday morning.”
But it did not take long for the exact opposite to happen. Drouin was suspended indefinitely on January 20 after failing to attend one of Syracuse’s games. The suspension was lifted on March 8, with Yzerman unable to find a viable trade option that would help Tampa Bay before the February 29 trade deadline.
So what makes this situation difficult? Well, the Jonathan Drouin that displayed a negative attitude for most of the season has apparently disappeared.
After scoring 11 times in Syracuse, Drouin returned to the Lightning on April 4 and scored in each of the final two games, including the game-winner against New Jersey.
After finishing a rocky regular season strong, he has become a sudden threat in the postseason. He had three fantastic assists in Game 4 against Detroit to help the Lightning regain control of their first round series, and he finished second on the team in assists, only trailing Tyler Johnson.
After another beautiful assist in Tampa Bay’s loss to the Islanders, Drouin scored his first career postseason on a backhander in Game2. He also added an assist on the power play to help Tampa Bay take an easy victory and tie the series.
His stat line for the playoffs is currently at one goal and six assists, and only Johnson and Nikita Kucherov have more playoff points for the Lightning through seven games.
Of course, his personality is no longer rubbing anyone the wrong way (at least not right now, anways, but time will tell).
Yzerman is widely known as one of the bigger masterminds in hockey, and he has been very patient in finding a valid suitor for a potential trade. But the potential for a Drouin trade is mightily close to becoming an “if” rather than a “when”.
He still has a long way to go before he matches the value in Tampa Bay that Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Max Domi; three players drafted after him in 2013, have provided for their respective teams. Nevertheless, Drouin is finally beginning to show the Lightning that he does have the talent to possibly maintain a roster spot in the NHL. He may get a “hero” tag next to his name if he continues to torch opposing defenses this postseason.
Even if his late run of success is not enough to keep him with the Lightning, it may be enough for Yzerman to pull off a huge trade that could work wonders for Tampa Bay’s future.