It’s been more than a month and a half since Jonathan Drouin last suited up in a professional game, but with no trade imminent, the 20-year-old winger is set to head back to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
The Lightning announced Monday afternoon that they have lifted the team-imposed suspension on Drouin and that he will return to practice with the Crunch on Tuesday. Drouin last played in a contest for Syracuse on Jan. 18 against the Rochester Americans, but was suspended by the Lightning after he refused to report to a Jan. 20 contest against the Toronto Marlies.
Drouin’s refusal to report stemmed from a trade request earlier in the season which the Lightning had not acted upon. Drouin’s agent, Allan Walsh, released a statement saying he had formally requested Drouin be traded in November, but by January the Lightning had not found a deal for the sophomore winger and demoted him to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch on Jan. 2. Less than three weeks later, Drouin left the Crunch.
Drouin’s walkout from the Crunch — and, in turn, the Lightning — came shortly after the team had told him a trade was imminent, Walsh said in a statement. Walsh said that with a trade coming, it was proposed Drouin be held out of games so as to avoid injury, but the Lightning refused the request. After the request by Drouin was denied, Walsh announced “there is no reason for Jonathan to continue with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization in any capacity.”
Some believed Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman would find a deal for Drouin by the trade deadline, though Yzerman maintained he wouldn’t rush the trade as he was operating in the best interests of the Lightning and trying to get what he deemed a fair return. No trade was completed by the Feb. 29 deadline, but Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith that if Drouin “wants to come back, the door is open. That's up to him.”
Yzerman told Smith the team had offers for Drouin, but added that his “feeling was, if it's not going to help me now, I'm better off keeping my options this summer.” That made it incredibly unlikely that Drouin would play any professional games before the season ended had he chosen to holdout for the remainder of the season.
In seven AHL games this season, Drouin had two goals and three points, though he was held off the score sheet in five of seven contests. Before his demotion, Drouin played in 19 games for the Lightning, scoring two goals and eight points. He averaged 14 minutes of ice time over that span.
There’s no telling how Drouin walking away from the Crunch hindered Yzerman’s ability to get the return he sought for the 2013 third-overall pick. By playing, there’s the opportunity for Drouin to increase his stock, which could in turn increase the value of the offers Yzerman receives. Drouin would have burned a year off of his entry-level contract had he returned to the Crunch or not.