Jonathan Drouin’s return to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch has gone well so far. In his first game back, he found the score sheet with an assist and proceeded to score two dynamite goals the next night out. Thanks to his play, a return to the Tampa Bay Lightning could be on the horizon.
At the GM meetings in Florida, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman spoke with NHL.com’s Shawn Roarke and Yzerman said there was never a plan to keep Drouin in the AHL in the first place. Yzerman said the original demotion, which came on Jan. 2, was to get Drouin some game action as he had missed 19 games due to injury in the first half of the season.
“It wasn't a demotion, it was simply to go down, though not on conditioning, was strictly as conditioning to get some games after missing a lot due to injury,” Yzerman told Roarke. "The plan was for him to go down and play and come back, so with the situation right now, if it is good for our team and it is the right thing to do, he will be recalled. So, it's very realistic.”
Yzerman said he watched Drouin’s outings over the weekend through the AHL’s online streaming service and said he was impressed with what he saw out of Drouin. Yzerman said the young winger’s conditioning and speed looked good, and it definitely didn’t hurt Drouin’s case for him to put up three points in three games. It’s especially impressive considering the 20-year-old missed nearly two months of action after walking away from the Crunch as the result of an unfulfilled trade demand that had been made earlier in the season.
Drouin left the Crunch on Jan. 20 after failing to report for a game against the Toronto Marlies. He returned to Quebec and trained outside of Montreal while away from both the Crunch and Lightning. The expectation was the Drouin would have been dealt by the trade deadline, but Yzerman said he didn’t receive an offer he felt could help Tampa Bay presently and decided instead to keep Drouin. Trade talks could re-open once the season ends.
If Drouin does come up from the AHL come playoff time — and the Lightning are almost assuredly set to return to the playoffs — the hope would be that he can find a fit in the lineup and produce when given the chance. In the 2015 playoffs, Drouin was scratched for 20 of the 26 games the Lightning played and didn’t record a single point in his six games.
With what Drouin showed over the weekend, however, he likely increased the likelihood he’ll get called up to Tampa Bay. If he can keep that pace up, too, there’s almost no doubt Yzerman will give Drouin the chance to make something happen for the big club.
"I think it's my responsibility to make any decision based on what's going to help us 1) make the playoffs, and 2) win in the playoffs,” Yzerman said.